Space medicine scientists are pushing to develop an international database on the long-term health effects of spaceflight.
This is necessary to protect the health and performance of current and future crew members of all nationalities, as well as to identify the long-term health consequences of retired crew members worldwide. However, there are legal and thorny challenges to privacy.
Given that there are now approximately 120 retired international spaceflight crew members still alive, collecting medical or health data on these crew members has the potential to expand the overall sample size of health outcomes in space explorers by 40 percent.
Related: Astronauts’ blood shows signs of DNA mutations caused by spaceflight
Radiation: access to full expression
Understanding the long-term impact on human health of space exploration missions presents an extraordinary challenge. Why is that?
In the first place, relatively few humans have been exposed to the space environment.
Additionally, understanding the long-term health effects requires tracking the health and medical status for years after a crew member completes their mission.
This is particularly true for those ‘chronic/degenerative’ risks, such as malignancies secondary to radiation exposure, which can take decades to reach full expression.
Bottom line: Given that the total number of people who have flown in space is just over 500, and a growing proportion of International Space Station (ISS) crews are already international, it is imperative to start capturing medical data from these space travelers.
It’s time to develop an international database on the long-term health effects of spaceflight. This case was presented in the latest issue of Acta Astronautica.
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The long-term goal of this database initiative is to create a secure data repository of biomedical data from retired international staff. The use of existing technologies, such as electronic personal health records that enable an individual to collect and transmit their own data, can contribute to the increased collection and transmission of biomedical data to this data repository.
Among the authors of the idea for the database is former astronaut Bonnie Dunbar. She did five space shuttle missions between 1985 and 1998 and is now a professor of aeronautical engineering at Texas A&M University College of Engineering.
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“We are exploring funding opportunities to move this project forward,” said Susan Bloomfield, research professor of health and kinesiology at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
“It’s possible that NASA can’t fund it because it addresses the issues of international (non-US) crew members,” Bloomfield told Space.com. “Health tech companies are one option; we’ve already collaborated with one – Care Evolution – during our feasibility project.”
By using retired crew members to obtain health data, perhaps this is a way to avoid medical privacy issues in the “active” crew of astronauts?
Bloomfield said that active astronaut corps members in nearly all space agencies are constantly collecting their medical data.
Meanwhile, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, astronaut medical data collection was reconfigured in 2010 as an operational program within the space agency and renamed Lifetime Monitoring of Astronaut Health. It’s called LSAH for short.
Bloomfield said the LSAH within NASA collects data fairly consistently on retired American and Canadian space crew members.
“There is no way to avoid medical privacy issues according to current NASA policies,” Bloomfield said. Designer researchers have a way to access this data, but there are many limitations to the collection of ancillary data (eg, gender, dietary intake, exercise time, pre-existing conditions).
“Our focus for the retired crew is to expand the existing database of medical information on space publications to better enable future researchers to better define the long-term health consequences of exposure to the space environment, by expanding data collection for decades and increasing the total ‘n’ [sample size] by at least 40%, as more and more publications are international,” Bloomfield said.
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Simplify data collection
Bloomfield said the goal of testing the utility of a personal health record applicant is to simplify the data collection process, by collecting data directly from retired crew members and removing the “middleman” from physicians/hospital record managers.
Given the growth of private spaceflight, how much can you help contribute to this database?
The Transitional Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH), funded by a NASA collaborative agreement and based at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, has already created a medical/health database for commercial airline flight data, Bloomfield said.
“It’s not clear, however, that they will be tracking these individuals over the long term,” Bloomfield said. “And frankly, it’s very unlikely that long-term medical issues will develop with a duration of hours to days for those commercial flights (yet).”
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In their latest paper in the journal Icarus, Bloomfield and colleagues note:
“Empowering our research scientists to work with a more complete database is essential to protecting the health and performance of our current and future crew members, as well as identifying the expected long-term health consequences of our retired crew members worldwide.”
Also, shift your medical eye beyond LEO.
Given the small number of humans who have been exposed to the dusty lunar environment, with more lunar surface ‘rebooting’, it is necessary to proactively promote routine autopsies of those lunar walkers to obtain more accurate data determining whether exposure to the lunar environment increases. of morbidity or mortality.
For example, the Icarus paper notes, could there be any pulmonary consequences of exposure to lunar dust on crews spending time on the lunar surface? Or, is there any association between increased exposure to space radiation during missions to the Moon or multiple spacewalks and earlier/more severe carcinogenesis? “
“Our working hypothesis was that enabling retired crews to manage their Medicare/Healthcare data using an appropriate application on their own devices would result in more efficient delivery of such data to a central data repository and, most importantly, reduce barriers due to international legal restrictions related to transferring medical/health data,” concluded the Icarus research paper.
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