Here's how rodent research on the International Space Station is going

The Rodent Research 5 mission, a collaboration between NASA and SpaceX (Elon Mouse-k?), is the subject of a new study published in Cell Reports explaining some of the medical insights these moustranauts have made possible concerning bone density, deterioration, and osteoporosis. According to NASA, "The mission's primary objective is to study bone loss under microgravity conditions and to determine if a novel treatment can reduce or prevent bone loss that would normally happen in a microgravity environment."

Moustronauts have been vital in medical research on the International Space Station since at least 2014. Yes, mice in space. Not to be confused with snakes on a plane. As reported by CNN Business, "Another seemingly quirky experiment involves sending 40 mice up to the station later this year [2014], which will be their home for six months – roughly a quarter of a mouse's average lifespan. The rodents' journey to space may look like an odd move for scientists, but it is hoped the "moustronauts" will provide valuable biomedical insight into how spaceflight affects the human body."

From the report, "Specific host metabolite and gut microbiome alterations are associated with bone loss during spaceflight," accessible here, "Understanding the axis of the human microbiome and physiological homeostasis is an essential task in managing deep-space-travel-associated health risks. The NASA-led Rodent Research 5 mission enabled an ancillary investigation of the gut microbiome, varying exposure to microgravity (flight) relative to ground controls in the context of previously shown bone mineral density (BMD) loss that was observed in these flight groups. We demonstrate elevated abundance of Lactobacillus murinus and Dorea sp. during microgravity exposure relative to ground control through whole-genome sequencing and 16S rRNA analyses."

What does all that mean? Because space flight changes the microbiome of humans and rodents, and according to Technology Networks, "Recent research has suggested that the process of bone remodeling may be influenced by the bacteria present in our guts, which form part of the gut microbiome.[..] these gut microbes may interact with our immune and hormonal systems, producing molecules that can indirectly affect the cells responsible for bone remodeling."

Dr. Wenyuan Shi, one of the primary researchers, commented in the press release from Cell Reports, "This is just another vivid example showing the dynamic interactions between the microbiome and mammalian hosts. The gut microbiome is constantly monitoring and reacting, and that's also the case when you're exposed to microgravity. We've yet to find out whether there's a causal link between changes to the microbiome and the observed bone loss in microgravity and if it is simply a consequence or an active compensation to mitigate, but the data are encouraging and create new avenues for exploration."

According to NASA's webpage, "Results from this experiment can help us provide insight into diseases, disorders, and injuries associated with bone loss in spaceflight environments as well as on Earth, and can improve the current standard of care for osteoporosis disease and the preventaiton of osteoporotic fractures that cost $25 billion annually.  This can potentially help millions of people globally and aid in development of new drugs to treat these conditions." 

For more on the Rodent Research hardware system, click here.