During our brainstorming session at NASA Space Apps Challenge 2015, we researched various problems that astronauts face in space. One of the tougher challenges was the loss of bone mass, a condition known as osteopenia and its more severe form osteoporosis.
Osteopenia in space is caused by the lack of mechanical stimuli on bones. On Earth, our bones must fight gravity to support our weight, which causes them to constantly rebuild themselves. In microgravity of space, the mechanical stress on bones is much less intense, resulting in attenuated bone formation.
It is so severe that the average astronaut’s bone mass decreases for 1 to 2 percent every month, in some cases as much as 20 percent in six months. For comparison, postmenopausal women, untreated for bone loss, lose 1 to 1.5 percent of bone mass in one year.
To combat osteopenia, astronauts in space are required to train daily, for instance, using the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) on the International Space Station. The other option is taking medication. These measures are effective, but they are not ideal, exercise is time consuming, and medication usually has side effects.
Our vision is to develop a noninvasive treatment for osteopenia, which is easy to apply and won’t require expensive equipment.
Also check out our project on NASA space apps website.