Future human spaceflight gets boost from Inspiration4 research

Crew members Jared Isaacman, Sian Proctor, Hayley Arceneaux and Chris Sembroski from Inspiration4, the world’s first all-civilian orbital mission, met Thursday in New York to provide new biological samples three months after their historic flight. Data will help scientists and researchers better understand how the human body adapts after spaceflight via research sponsored by the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine.

The Inspiration4 crew spent three days in low-Earth orbit following launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center historic Launch Complex 39A on Sept. 15. Pre-launch, in-flight and post-return, the crew participated in human health research. The crew also received an update Thursday on the ongoing data analysis of health research conducted during the mission.

“Analysis is currently underway on the more than 100,000 data points collected by the Inspiration4 mission, and we expect to have a complete picture in spring 2022,” said Dr. Dorit Donoviel, executive director of TRISH and professor of space medicine at Baylor. “The data sets provided by the Inspiration4 flight may inform on high-priority risks to astronaut health such as blood clots, urinary retention and space motion sickness.”

“Already our analysis of the Inspiration4 crew has revealed dramatic changes in human and microbial biology, spanning billions of DNA and RNA molecules and millions of individual cells. In just three days of flight, we have seen unique bacteria blossom, changes in the immune cell types, and epigenetic changes as well,” said Dr. Christopher Mason, professor of genomics, physiology and biophysics from Weill Cornell Medicine.

Empowered by NASA’s Human Research Program, TRISH is a virtual institute that finds and funds disruptive science and medical technology to reduce health and performance risks to future deep space explorers. TRISH and investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine aim to continue broadening access to space medicine research by making all biomedical data collected for the Inspiration4 mission more accessible through a data repository funded and overseen by TRISH.

The Inspiration4 crew conducted and participated in the following TRISH-sponsored research:

  • Collected research-grade ECG activity, movement, sleep, heart rate and rhythm, blood oxygen saturation, cabin noise and light intensity.

    Physiologic data improves understanding of how non-professional astronauts or civilians might fare during space travel.

  • Performed a series of tests in the Cognition app designed to assess changes in behavioral and cognitive performance. This is the same app that is used by astronauts in NASA-funded research studies.

    Cognitive data improves understanding of how well the general population will endure the stress of space travel.

  • Scanned organ systems via a Butterfly IQ+ Ultrasound device, which is designed with artificial intelligence guidance for non-medical experts. Data collected is being used to determine if non-medical experts can self-acquire clinical grade images without guidance from ground support and will provide a timeline of biological changes before and during spaceflight.

    This experiment guides minimally trained passengers to acquire high-quality ultrasound images, which are normally collected by ultrasound technicians. If validated, this could become an important diagnostic tool for medical systems on future deep space missions.

  • Collected and tested drops of blood during spaceflight for markers of immune function and inflammation using a state-of-the-art miniaturized device called the Vertical Flow Immunoassay (VFI).

    This small blood test could give future space crew an easy-to-use analysis tool to support health diagnostics on mission.

  • Used balance and perception tests pre-flight and immediately postflight to measure sensorimotor adaptation during changes of gravity. These tests are currently performed by astronauts upon return from spaceflight.

    The results might enable prediction of who will get motion sickness in spaceflight.

TRISH-supported researchers have archived and currently are analyzing the resulting biomedical samples and data, in collaboration with investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine, USC, and Cornell University, as well as several industry partners like 10xGenomics, QIAGEN and Seer. Research data, including single-cell, genomic, multi-omics, microbiome, cognitive and integrated physiology data, will be made available to the scientific community in an open format database to enable greater collaborative research.

TRISH will provide details on future postflight data collection events and accessibility of the data as they become available.

TRISH is funded through a cooperative agreement with NASA to Baylor College of Medicine and includes consortium partners Caltech and the MIT.

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