Researcher at East Lansing’s MSU Studies How to Prevent Sickness in Space

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A researcher at MSU is trying to find a way to predict sickness so astronauts can prevent illness while in space.

George Mias, a biochemistry and molecular biology researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing, has received a two-year award from the Translational Research Institute for Space Health in partnership with NASA to find a way to detect illness before it happens.

His goal is to be able to keep astronauts from getting sick during space missions, when no doctors or hospitals are available.

Mias believes precision medicine, a personalized approach using technology to analyze an individual’s wellness to predict and possibly prevent illness, can keep be used before and while astronauts are in space.

He and his team will use molecular signatures, or thousands of body signals that include genes, proteins, hart rate, saliva, blood pressure, and more, to detect illnesses before they happen. After establishing an individual’s baseline, the signals would be monitored to detect early patterns of deviation.

“Our goal is keeping people healthy as they travel through space by predicting changes that could tell us if there’s something wrong before any outward signs appear,” says Mias, who also is chief of the systems biology division at MSU’s Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering. “If we can detect illnesses early, we can better provide treatment before they leave or while they are in space.”

Using data provided by NASA from previous astronaut missions, Mias will build an algorithm that will automate the detection of deviations due to adverse events.

“We’re not looking at a single snapshot, but rather a period of time to track a person’s health,” says Mias. “Think of it as an ocean. Normal fluctuation are the waves. We’re trying to detect larger ones triggered by an underlying cause, like a tsunami triggered by an earthquake. Our algorithm will detect both subtle and big deviations so they can be treated in advance.”

The scientists will monitor individuals’ deviations as well as group irregularities to look for signatures of forthcoming illness. Thousands of signals are used to differentiate sicknesses, with specific signatures associated with distinctive changes. Studying similar time points of multiple astronauts will help determine whether the same deviations result in the same illnesses.

“As the boundaries of science continue to be pushed, so do the boundaries of human health,” says Mias. “I’ve always loved space and am excited and honored to contribute my expertise toward space exploration by keeping our future astronauts healthy on their travels.”

Mias is one of 15 researchers to receive the award.

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