Even though space travel and otherworldly colonization have been a dream of mankind’s for a very long time, we still live in a relatively moral society. This is why we actually want the people we send into space to come back safe and healthy, and we don’t just run tests sacrificing test subjects until the results are successful.
So it’s only natural that worries ensue when scientists find out that short-term space flight caused liver damage in mice. The team isn’t yet sure about the full extent of their findings, but they are eager to send more mice into space and to find out more about how the condition actually happens.
The study comes as a result of analyzing data from way back in 2011, when it turns out that mice that spent two weeks in space during NASA’s last space shuttle program mission returned to the planet sporting signs of early-stage liver disease. Understandably, this sparked s number of very reasonable concerns.
When compared to a control group that remained on Earth, the space mice stored more fat in their livers in addition to presenting lower levels of retinol. Retinol is a sort of vitamin A used by animals for bone growth and health, good vision, and a number of other important body processes.
All of the symptoms point to signs of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and some of the animals even presented some scar tissue in the liver, a key sign of early fibrosis. They might have even been on their way towards developing cirrhosis.
The study’s lead author, Karen Jonscher, an associate professor of anesthesiology and a physicist with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, had this to say about the conundrum:
It generally takes a long time, months to years, to induce fibrosis in mice, even when eating an unhealthy diet. If a mouse is showing nascent signs of fibrosis without a change in diet after 13.5 days, what is happening to the humans?
[…]Whether or not this is a problem is an open question. We need to look at mice involved in longer-duration spaceflight to see if there are compensatory mechanisms that come into play that might protect them from serious damage.
Of course, with the Agency planning on sending astronauts to Mars by the end of the next decade, the matter is of no small concern. Every single aspect of space travel has to be perfectly understood so that everything during the long space trip is perfectly planned for.
While some factors of prolonged space travel have been known for a while (bone loss, muscle atrophy, vision problems, etc.), nothing of the sort has been encountered before. So, scientists are hoping for the opportunity to do more tests and to figure exactly what happens to one’s body in the furthest reaches of space.
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