Beckman researcher Marni Boppart will lead NASA-sponsored research to preserve astronaut health aboard future Artemis missions to the moon and Mars. Her proposed method uses cells to replicate the restorative effect of exercise on muscle and tissue health.
Exercise looks a little different en route to the Red Planet, so Professor Marni Boppart got creative.
Boppart and her colleagues at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology received $1 million from the Translational Research Institute for Space Health, a NASA-funded institute, to explore the regenerative power of cells in space. Their research will help protect human health aboard Orion, the spacecraft destined to ferry astronauts from the Earth to the moon and Mars.
Honed by relentless evolution, our cells have yet to catch on to the concept of exercising for fun. When we lift heavy weights or engage in rigorous activities, our cells react with a well-intentioned stress response, deploying a battalion of chemicals into the bloodstream to boost our body’s ability to survive future threats. If a weight that once seemed too heavy becomes manageable with time and training, you have your overprotective, stressed-out cells to thank.
These chemical payloads don’t navigate the bloodstream’s harsh terrain on their own. Some are wrapped in a protective lipid layer called an extracellular vesicle, named for its pickup and delivery routes that transfer restorative chemicals from cell to cell.
Boppart believes that the extracellular vesicles our bodies generate after exercising, and the chemicals they contain, can trigger the restorative effects of exercise — even when no exercise has taken place.
“When we exercise, it’s not only our muscles that benefit, but all tissues, including the brain and skin. Our TRISH-sponsored work will directly test the ability of extracellular vesicles released after exercise to protect human health in space,” Boppart said.
The broad aim of Boppart’s study is to use extracellular vesicles generated naturally by volunteers on Earth, or even artificially, to replicate the restorative effect of exercise in astronauts, essentially enabling their muscles to engage in post-exercise recovery without ever having to lift a space-suited finger.
“Astronauts are the target population for this funded study, but the result could potentially be used to prevent, maintain, or treat a variety of conditions associated with inactivity and disuse, including aging, disability, or even disease, which would be exceptionally fulfilling,” Boppart said.