Researchers see space travel as way to better study effects of cancer

Researchers see space travel as way to better study effects of cancer
File photo of the University of Hawaii Cancer Center. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A University of Hawaii Cancer Center researcher has begun studying the effects of space travel on the human body – with hopes that the findings can soon be used to learn more about the effects of cancer.

John Shepherd and his team of researchers were awarded $330,000 by the Translational Research Institute for Space Health to better study ways to measure body composition on long-duration space flights.

The research, which will have a particular focus on muscle loss and loss of physical function, has direct applications to many cancer patients who suffer from a similar condition involving weight and muscle loss called cancer cachexia.

Astronauts are known to lose muscle mass from the effects of microgravity. When astronauts finish long-duration space flights, it’s standard procedure for many of them to enter physical therapy programs to help them build up the muscle to walk again after they’ve returned to Earth.

“While they are on the flight, they need to be able to have direct feedback on the quality of their muscles and bones,” Shepherd said. “With the technology we develop, we hope the astronauts can modify their nutrition and adjust training to minimize muscle loss while on long-duration flights, such as missions to Mars.”

The team will mount several small optical cameras inside a space capsule to collect data. Astronauts will spin while they float in space, so the cameras can capture a view of their entire body.

The study will then determine the effectiveness of using 3-D optical cameras in such an environment.

“This research is incredibly novel, as it will lead to the development of new methods for measuring body composition for astronauts in space who are prone to muscle and bone loss,” said Randall Holcombe, director of the UH Cancer Center.

“Findings from this research by Dr. Shepherd and his team may eventually be utilized to better understand and prevent cancer-related muscle wasting and improve the quality of life for cancer patients."

Copyright 2019 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.