Space is a hostile place, even inside a spacecraft. Radiation, weightlessness and isolation are only a few of the unique stressors faced by astronauts during space travel.
As NASA prepares for a manned journey to Mars, researchers are studying what happens to the human body in space to determine the health risks of a several-year mission. This research includes a unique study of identical twin astronauts to investigate the effects of spaceflight at a molecular level — comparing data from Scott Kelly, who recently completed a one-year space mission, with data from his brother who led a normal life on Earth.
NASA recently produced a series of web videos, “Omics: Exploring space through you, ” that discuss its twins study and features Michael Snyder, MD, professor and chair of genetics at Stanford and a principal investigator on one of the projects. Omics is a field of study that integrates different types of molecular information and, as Snyder explains in the introductory video:
In many respects, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. A jigsaw puzzle can be made of 1,000 pieces, but you don’t really see the picture until you put all those pieces together. That’s the same for omics: You basically try and understand all of the individual pieces so you can see the whole picture.
NASA is making billions of measurements of both twins to see what space really does to the human body. And researchers hope that one day omics profiles will be conducted on a large scale in clinics, not just on astronauts, so we can switch from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to personalized medicine.
“Omics is really an amazing field where we can look at people and their health at a level that’s never been possible before,” Snyder comments. “And with that we’ll be able to better manage people’s health and try and keep them healthy long before they get sick.”
Previously: Aim higher: Dean Lloyd Minor calls for widespread embrace of precision health, Precision health: a special report from Stanford Medicine magazine and The genomics revolution and the rise of the “molecular stethoscope”