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Researcher to study astronaut bone loss for space biology agency

Roger K. Long, MD, an endocrinology research fellow at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco, was one of only three scientists named in January 2007 as 2006-2008 Postdoctoral Fellows by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI).

Long's NSBRI research project will focus on the causes and possible methods of treating or preventing bone loss resulting from the prolonged weightlessness of space travel.

The research also has great relevance for patients on Earth who are immobilized for long periods –?paraplegics, quadriplegics, and people in casts, says Long's mentor for the project, SFVAMC staff physician Daniel D. Bikle, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine and dermatology at UCSF.

As an NSBRI Fellow, Long will receive $40,000 per year for two years for his research at SFVAMC. In addition, as a member of an NSBRI science and technology team, he will collaborate in person and via teleconference with NSBRI colleagues. He and the other two Fellows were chosen from among a nationwide pool of applicants.

"The loss of mechanical forces on bone in the weightlessness of space dramatically weakens bone," says Long. "The ability of humans to conduct prolonged missions to the moon and Mars will require that the structural integrity of the skeleton be maintained."

Astronauts who spend weeks or months in the weightless environment of space –?a state called skeletal unloading –?lose bone because, in the absence of gravity, they lose the ability to make enough new bone cells to replace old cells that die in the normal course of bone metabolism. After their return to Earth's gravity, an event known as reloading, bone cell production can take months to return to normal. During that time, bones are highly vulnerable to fracture.

Here on Earth, explains Bikle, immobilized patients experience bone loss for the same reason astronauts do: their skeletons have not borne any wei
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Source:University of California - San Francisco


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