High-Tech Implant Can Help Astronauts Fight Off Muscle Deterioration

Friday, 09 February 2018 - 8:01PM
Space
Technology
NASA
Friday, 09 February 2018 - 8:01PM
High-Tech Implant Can Help Astronauts Fight Off Muscle Deterioration
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NASA
This should go without saying, but being an astronaut is not an easy job. The physical toll is immense, and there are lots of side effects that zero gravity can have on the human body that we're still looking into.

One physical effect that NASA is very much aware of is muscular atrophy - without the subtle pull of gravity on your muscles, they lose out on a weak but constant workout which can lead to muscle deterioration. The result is that astronauts aboard the International Space Station need to do extra physical activity, leading to things like the recent space badminton tournament held on the ISS.

But a better solution is in the works, as NASA is working on a small, implantable chip containing a drug that can fight off muscular atrophy as the implant constantly unloads the drug into an astronaut's body. The drug compound and implant are still being developed, but once it's complete, it could be a permanent way to keep astronaut muscles safe, as the under-the-skin implant can be refilled with drugs without ever being removed (thankfully).



However, even though the drug-pumping device never needs to be removed after it's placed underneath the skin, it's still refilled via needle. So it's not a pleasant system, necessary as it may be.

The project is currently referred to as Rodent Research 6 (RR-6) because it's being tested on a sample of 40 mice kept aboard the ISS. The main scientist behind the project, Yasaman Shirazi of the NASA Ames Research Center, described it in a press release:

Opening quote
"The unique aspect of the mission is the nano-channel delivery system is implanted under the skin and provides constant drug delivery in the body, which prevents the need for injections or taking pills... and if you want to look at it long-term, it could be a customized device for long-term curing of a disease."
Closing quote




Since it's still undergoing testing, the implantable device may not be available for some time, meaning that the six astronauts currently living on the ISS will need to stick out the bizarre side effects that come from their zero-g environment.

But in the future, as the potential increase in space missions leads to more and more people venturing forth into space, this sort of cyberpunk implant could be an easy solution to an otherwise risky health problem.
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