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Supermice Shot Into Space Could Lead To Muscle And Bone Loss Therapies

Image by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay

Scientists sent a group of genetically-engineered super-strong mice to see if they’d keep their muscle mass in space orbit. They did — and it could lead to new therapies to prevent muscle and bone loss.

Sei-Jin Lee is a researcher at the University of Connecticut. He and his team found a way to block a gene called myostatin that limits muscle growth. Mice without myostatin grew muscles twice the normal size. Then Lee and his team sent them to space last year.

“In microgravity, you mimic the muscle loss that occurs in people who are bedridden. We thought that would be the perfect place to test whether blocking myostatin could be beneficial,” Lee said.

Dozens of little black mice spent about a month on the International Space Station. They came back to Earth in a SpaceX capsule in January — and Lee and his team studied them.

“The mighty mice retained most if not all of their muscle mass in space. Moreover, if we blocked myostatin in normal mice, we could get the muscle to grow even at the International Space Station,” he said.

Lee’s wife — Emily Germain-Lee — is a fellow researcher on the project. She said these mice could be little heroes for people with both muscle loss and bone loss.

“This ranges even to as young as children who suffer from various muscle wasting diseases and from bone fragility, the whole way up to the elderly. Really any condition in which there’s immobilization,” she said.

Lee said a lot more research is needed — and it could be years before we know if the mighty-mice technique works on humans, too.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.