As space travel becomes more accessible, the UCF College of Medicine is helping to answer questions about how time spent in space affects the body.
The College of Medicine has partnered with the NASA-funded Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) to collect data and biospecimens from commercial spaceflight participants to better understand how space flight impacts health. One of the first missions the College of Medicine is supporting is the Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) to the International Space Station (ISS), which launched on May 21.
“This partnership is a fantastic opportunity and fits with our mission at UCF,” says Deborah German, vice president for Health Affairs at UCF and dean of the College of Medicine. “UCF was born as a university to support the space program and the College of Medicine is continuing this mission with research to support the space program, and to bring to Earth all of the secrets that research and space medicine can reveal.”
Funded by the NASA Human Research Program and led by Baylor College of Medicine, TRISH seeks to better understand the impact of spaceflight, which will inform scientists and clinicians on how to protect the health of humans wherever they explore, in space or on Earth. Through studies exploring motion sickness, sleep disturbance, changes to cognitive function, eye and brain health, and more, TRISH-supported research assesses key aspects of the human experience in space. As part of the partnership, the UCF College of Medicine will conduct pre-flight and post-flight testing and processing of laboratory samples from spaceflight participants of Ax-2 and future commercial space flights.
Emmanuel Urquieta Ordonez, chief medical officer at TRISH, says the partnership with UCF will expand the institute’s data collection efforts.
“The goal of TRISH’s commercial spaceflight research program is to collect high-value data from participants, including physiological changes like sensory-motor data, which is how your balance changes before and after space travel. We also study cognitive performance, like how your brain changes after being in space. One way we do research is by collecting samples including blood, saliva, stool and skin swabs three times before flight and three times after spaceflight.”
He says UCF’s expertise, capabilities, and proximity to the Kennedy Space Center made the College of Medicine an ideal choice for the partnership.
“With some flights launching here in Florida, we want to get the best data from samples and ensure that they get processed following established protocols, so having a partner in the Orlando area close to Kennedy Space Center is ideal,” Urquieta Ordonez says.
College of Medicine researchers Michal Masternak and Alicja Copik are among UCF faculty who will lead UCF’s laboratory research efforts. Masternak, who currently studies aging and age-related diseases, says he is excited about the possibilities the partnership presents.
“As space travel becomes more accessible for all, I think this partnership is a great opportunity for us to work towards solving the mysteries of space travel and its impact on human health,” he says.
Last year, Masternak and three physicians from UCF Health, the College of Medicine clinical practice, did research with the crew of Axiom Mission 1, Axiom’s first all-private spaceflight participant mission that bought four passengers to the International Space Station.
“We are tremendously honored to be partnering with TRISH,” says Amoy Fraser, who leads the College of Medicine’s clinical and aerospace health research team. “This partnership is consistent with the vision of UCF as ‘The Space U’ and we look forward to additional partnerships and growth in the arena of space health.”