LA JOLLA – Two scientists at the La Jolla-based Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute will send fruit flies to the International Space Station to study the impact of space travel on the human heart, the institute announced today.
A team led by institute researchers Rolf Bodmer and Karen Ocorr was one of eight to win a competition to place experiments aboard the ISS.
Bodmer said the selection will provide them with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for their studies.
”Understanding the effects of microgravity on heart function will be important for keeping astronauts healthy during extended stays in space,” Bodmer said. ”There is evidence that spaceflight results in cardiac dysfunction, including decreases in contractility, increases in cardiac arrhythmias and alterations in cardiac cell structure, all of which affect the output of the hearts of astronauts even after they return to Earth’s gravity.”
Bodmer is a professor and director of the Development and Aging Program at Sanford-Burnham.
In the experiment, 16 groups of 25-30 fruit flies each will be sent to the space station late in 2013 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle. When returned to earth 30 days later, their heart function will be examined and compared to a control group kept on the ground.
Fruit flies are an ideal model because they share with humans many of the same genetic and molecular mechanisms involved in heart development and function, according to the institute. Also, they are small, easy to care for, and their genetics are well understood.
Peter Lee, of Stanford University, and Sharmila Bhattacharya, of the NASA Ames Research Center, will also participate in the experiment.
The contest was sponsored by Space Florida, the state’s spaceport and aerospace authority, and NanoRacks LLC, which makes microgravity research equipment.