Researchers at Penn State Hershey Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, Division of Musculoskeletal Sciences, participated in a collaborative research effort to understand the effects of microgravity on the human body when on July 8, a group of mice was launched on the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The researchers, led by Henry J. Donahue, Ph.D., the Michael and Myrtle Baker Professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, plan to examine the effects of microgravity on the ability of adult bone marrow stem cells to differentiate into bone-forming osteoblasts. “The data we gain from the space shuttle experiment will help to advance our understanding of bone loss that occurs with aging or with prolonged periods of bed rest,” said Donahue. Our bones are continually being remodeled, reflecting competing processes of bone formation by osteoblasts, and bone resorption by osteoclasts.
In the near weightless environment of space, astronauts lose bone about ten times faster than a post-menopausal woman would here on Earth. It is not yet fully understood how the development of bone cells from stem cell precursors is affected by spaceflight, or what role this plays in the characteristic suppression of bone formation observed following spaceflight.