Indiana University researcher sending mice to space to study bone healing, help wounded soldiers

CAPE CANVERAL, FL – An Indiana University researcher is preparing to send dozens of mice to space in an effort to study bone healing and help people with traumatic bone injuries.

Dr. Melissa Kacena is an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the IU School of Medicine. She’s spent quite a few years studying bone healing.

Throughout the past few years, she’s been working with the Department of Defense and the U.S. army to test a form of bone-healing therapy that could potentially help soldiers injured in IED blast explosions.

Soldiers who are injured in blasts generally suffer musculoskeletal injuries, and if they don’t have to amputate, they have to go undergo massive skeletal reconstructive surgery.

Researchers have tested bone-healing surgeries on mice and discovered that as soon as a mouse wakes up from surgery, its initial instinct is to put weight on the injured limb because walking or weight-bearing helps with the healing process, Kacena told CBS4.

However, a human that goes through this process is not able to walk or bear weight right away and is likely bed-ridden or on crutches for months.

That is why it’s crucial for the bone-healing therapy to best tested in an environment with zero gravity—making the International Space Station the perfect environment.

On Saturday, February 18 at 10:01 a.m. Kacena and her team of 18 Indiana University students and faculty members will launch 40 mice into space on the SpaceX rocket at the Kennedy Space Center.

rodentThe mice have undergone surgery to recapitulate what would happen to soldiers that were injured from a blast explosion. They will be transported on Space X in what is essentially a rodent cage, and when they arrive at the International Space Station, they will be transferred into a habitat where they will stay for the duration of the SpaceX mission which is about a month.

The experiment will provide Kacena and her team with a good understanding of how it will work on humans because the components of rodent biology are directly related to human biology.

“Space provides us a better model than what we can do on earth,” Kacena said.

Kacena and her fellow researchers will spend several months studying the mice and the effectiveness of the bone-healing therapy once they return.

They hope the knowledge gained from the experiment will lead to “a new understanding of the biological reasons behind humans’ inability to grow a lost limb at the wound site, and could lead to tissue regeneration efforts in space,” according to NASA.

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