Weightlessness might sound fun at first, but it has some major drawbacks, especially when it comes to the person’s health. A study carried out recently by a group of scientists from Russia and Canada looked into the effects weightlessness had on the human body by studying the protein composition from blood samples of 18 Russian cosmonauts. The results highlighted several significant changes that the body underwent during a space flight. Most of these changes are intended to help the body adapt, but that’s not always the case.
The human body isn’t made of steel, and the effects spaceflight can have on a person takes its toll. Experts have long been studying these effects, but the one thing that remains unknown is molecular mechanisms which drive these changes in the first place. To try and get to the bottom of this mystery, researchers first began studying proteins within the human body. The research involved the team quantifying concentrations of 125 proteins found in the blood of 18 Russian cosmonauts that had been on long-haul missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Blood samples were taken 30 days before their flights, immediately on their return, and then again seven days after that. The timing of the samples taken allowed scientists to identify trends in the protein concentration changes.
Researchers used what’s known as a mass spectrometer to measure protein concentrations. The results from the study showed that while some protein concentrations remained unchanged others changed then quickly returned to normal once the cosmonauts had returned back to Earth.
It also showed that in weightlessness, the body doesn’t know how to respond and as a result turns on all of its defense systems. “For this study, we began by using quantitative proteomics to study the cosmonauts’ blood indicators, so we detected not only the presence of a protein but its amount as well,” said Professor Evgeny Nikolaev, corresponding author of the study.
Moving forward Nikolaev and colleagues plan to use a more targeted approach in which to detect specific proteins that are responsible for the way humans respond to space conditions. “To do this, the cosmonauts will have to take blood tests while in orbit,” he says. The human body is affected differently in space as it is on Earth and results from the study basically indicate that the body doesn’t know how to react during space flight so it tries everything.
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