Many of us have seen images and videos of astronauts running on treadmills that they are strapped down to. This exercise is necessary because astronauts lose huge amounts of their muscle mass during extended space travel. The exercising is often not enough though as astronauts still lose a shocking amount of muscle while in space. However, this issue may be solved soon with the trial of a chemical called myostatin being tested in mice.
What Is Myostatin?
Myostatin is a protein that limits muscle and bone growth that was discovered in the 1990s by Doctor Se-Jin Lee. In a trial back then, it was discovered that when the gene that creates this protein was deleted in mice there was a dramatic increase in muscle mass when compared to normal mice.
Space Trial Of Myostatin In Mice
Earlier this year, Doctor Lee got the opportunity to test his theory that taking out myostatin would help the muscle loss associated with space travel when he was able to send 40 mice into space aboard SpaceX’s CRS-19 on its cargo resupply services mission. 24 of the mice were left natural, while 8 mice were those with the gene to produce myostatin removed, and 8 more had a chemical to suppress myostatin and another protein with a similar effect called activin-A.
After the mice returned from space after 33 days in space the mice that came back had different effects:
- Mice with no changes lost the usual amount of muscle mass associated with space travel.
- Mice treated to not produce myostatin had double the muscle mass before takeoff and kept almost all of it.
- Mice treated to not produce myostatin or activin A saw increases in both muscle mass and bone density while in space.
- Mice that were treated for getting rid of myostatin upon coming back to earth had a more effective recovery than mice that were left to recover naturally.
Implications For Astronauts
This discovery could be a breakthrough for helping astronauts retain lost muscle mass during space travel, but it is also important to remember that these trials were conducted on mice and may not translate to humans. However, if the treatment works on humans it could be a massive leap forward for traveling space safely.
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