HOUSTON (Sept. 15, 2009) A research project looking for ways to reduce bone loss in astronauts may yield methods of improving the bone health of cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment.
It is well documented that living in the microgravity environment of space causes bone loss in astronauts, but until recently, little was known about the effects of space radiation on bones. Dr. Ted Bateman leads a project funded by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) to understand radiation-induced bone loss and to determine which treatments can be used to reduce that loss and lower the risk of fractures.
"Our studies indicate significant bone loss at the radiation levels astronauts will experience during long missions to the moon or Mars," said Bateman, a member of NSBRI's Musculoskeletal Alterations Team.
Bateman, an associate professor of bioengineering at Clemson University, and colleagues at Clemson and Loma Linda University have discovered in experiments with mice that bone loss begins within days of radiation exposure through activation of bone-reducing cells called osteoclasts. Under normal conditions, these cells work with bone-building cells, called osteoblasts, to maintain bone health.
"Our research challenges some conventional thought by saying radiation turns on the bone-eating osteoclasts," Bateman said. "If that is indeed the case, existing treatments, such as bisphosphonates, may be able to prevent this early loss of bone."
Bisphosphonates are used to prevent loss of bone mass in patients who have osteoporosis or other bone disorders.
Even though the research is being performed to protect the health of NASA astronauts, cancer patients, especially those who receive radiation therapy in the pelvic region, could benefit from the research.
"We know that older women receiving radiotherapy to treat pelvic tumors are particularly vulnerable to fracture, with hip fracture
|Contact: Brad Thomas|
National Space Biomedical Research Institute