From the ISS, Chancellor speaks from a livestream to a room full of students.

Out of this world: Transcending the boundaries of medical care

NASA and Texas A&M collaborate to promote and improve space medicine
November 29, 2018

Every day researchers and students at Texas A&M University choose to face the toughest challenges facing human health. By approaching health from educational, research and service, they strive to close the gap between patients and providers, and improve care for everyone. In one area of this work, Texas A&M is getting “out of this world” to gain new and fresh perspectives.

Some Texas A&M researchers and students are finding solutions in space flight for human health through collaborations with NASA.

International Space Station livestream and panel sheds light on medical space flight research

By learning about those people who experience space flight and the biological changes that occur, medical research is gaining new ground to protect astronauts and improve patient care here on earth.

Because of NASA’s strong relationship with Texas A&M, NASA hosted a livestream directly from the International Space Station as well as a panel of former astronauts and space research faculty from across the university to answer questions posed by the audience.

The livestream from the International Space Station, sponsored by the College of Education and Human Development and the College of Medicine, was shown on various campuses across the Health Science Center. Serena Auñón Chancellor, MD, NASA physician astronaut and former flight surgeon, discussed the health risks associated with living in the space environment. The first words out of her mouth: “Howdy Ags! Welcome to the International Space Station!”

Panelists included Susan Bloomfield, PhD, professor and associate dean for research at the College of Education and Human Development; David Zawieja, PhD, professor and head of the department for medical physiology at the College of Medicine; Bonnie Dunbar, PhD, professor for aerospace engineering at the College of Engineering and former NASA astronaut; Pooneh Bagher, PhD, professor and associate head of the department of medical physiology at the College of Medicine and Jeff Chancellor, PhD candidate in the department of physics in the College of Science.

Each person in the International Space Station can chose one school to host a livestream with for 20 minutes. Chancellor, a former flight surgeon, chose Texas A&M, because of the school’s strong connection with space medicine research as well as her close personal connections to the school: her Aggie husband and passion for Texas A&M baseball.

From mental health and anti-gravity muscle retention to space suits and moon dust, Chancellor and the panel spoke about a wide variety of interdisciplinary health topics. She encouraged the listeners to get involved with space research or space medicine. She closed her livestream with an inspirational call to action: “I would love to see some of you in the field, or even up here one day.”

Improving health care for those in space and at home

From studying the impact of microgravity on eyesight and coronary artery function to finding new ways to prevent gastrointestinal dysfunction, Health Science Center researchers are aspiring to improve life for astronauts when they are in space and after they return home.

In October, NASA announced Texas A&M received six grants out of 54 grants awarded for funding their Human Research and Space Biology programs. Out of more than 250 grant applications, four of the grants were awarded to researchers from the Health Science Center. Two additional grants were awarded to other Texas A&M researchers: John Lawler, PhD, in College of Education and Human Development, and Daniel Selva, PhD, in the aerospace engineering department in the College of Engineering.

Anand Narayanan, PhD candidate at the Health Science Center, won a postdoctoral award for the Space Biology program to continue his research of simulated microgravity-induced systemic inflammation and its impact on circulatory function and structure. Walter Cormer, PhD, won a new investigation award also for the Space Biology program to continue his research on the use of dietary histidine to counteract lymphatic and mucosal immune dysfunction due to space dysbiosis. NASA’s Space Biology program aims to building a better understanding of how spaceflight affects living systems in a spacecraft, much like the International Space Station. The experiments conducted within this program will enlighten NASA on how people, plants and animals regulate and sustain growth in space.

Travis Hein, PhD, with team members David Zawieja, PhD, Binu Tharakan, PhD and various personnel from NASA won a team award for ground-based experiment for their project studying temporal impact of simulated microgravity on ocular vascular hydrodynamics. David Zawieja, PhD, with his team members Travis Hein, PhD, Pooneh Bagher, PhD, Anatoliy Gashev, PhD, and Binu Tharakan, PhD, also won an award to continue their studies on the effects of microgravity on ocular vascular hydrodynamics.

— Mary Leigh Meyer

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