What happens to bones after months in microgravity? The answers are of keen interest to researchers, who can use the information to offer new insights into healthcare on the ground.
But since research space is at a premium on the International Space Station (ISS), cutting-edge equipment is needed that can help ground-based researchers connect with the orbiting lab.
As a part of an effort to upgrade ISS research facilities managed by Johnson Space Center, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) worked with Techshot Inc. to build a bone densitometer suitable for use in space. Techshot started with a device widely used by biomedical researchers to take X-rays of rodents, called the GE Lunar PIXImus X-ray densitometer. It modified the device to make it smaller and lighter, as well as to ensure ground-based scientists could make apples-to-apples comparisons between ISS scans with those taken on Earth.
The Greenville, Indiana-based company’s product, dubbed Bone D, is operating commercially on the station for a number of clients looking to take advantage of studies performed in microgravity. Researchers for the first time have the ability to observe changes in test animal musculature and bone density in real time, a boon for biologists and pharmaceutical companies interested in developing treatments for musculoskeletal ailments. Right now it’s only being used for rodent research, although it’s possible other living creatures could be scanned with it in the future.