Mouse Mission

July 6, 2011

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On its final flight, Atlantis will carry 30 mice. Their mission: to find ways to protect astronauts from bone loss during space travel.

In microgravity, human astronauts lose bone strength at a rate of three percent per month and never fully recover it once they return to Earth. That would be a significant amount of bone loss for astronauts on a three-year mission to Mars.

Researchers with the joint NC State/University of North Carolina Biomedical Engineering team are studying how weightlessness affects mouse bone at the molecular level, zeroing in on load-sensing bone cells to study changes in protein expression.

Half of the mice have been treated with an antibody that’s been shown to increase bone formation and bone mineral density on Earth. In addition to helping astronauts, this research could provide insight on treating the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.

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