Researchers tap precision, personalized medicine for astronauts' health

Insights into personalized genomics can help prevent diseases in outer space.
By Laura Lovett
01:18 pm

Astronauts face a myriad of health challenges in space, including exposure to radiation, risk of bone deterioration, vestibular issues and various other concerns. 

Space health researchers are continuously looking for ways to prevent and treat medical problems before they arise. Enter precision medicine: an increasingly popular strategy that consider specific variations in a patient’s genetic makeup. 

Now researchers and scientist are looking to apply precision medicine and broader personalized medicine to support the health of astronauts in space — and in turn learn more about health on Earth. 

“As a physician, I think one of the greatest opportunities here is advancement of personalized medicine because, in personalized medicine, we can’t do business the way we used to," Dr. Annette Sobel, professor at the Texas Tech University of Health Sciences Center School of Medicine and TRISH board member, told HIMSS Media at the Space Health Innovation Conference. "We need to use genomics and ‘omics’ platforms to simulate disease, particularly aging at an accelerated rate, [and] to simulate solutions that can help today. In space medicine this naturally occurs, so we have a living laboratory to do that."

The idea is that personalized medicine can help to detect health deterioration or other events early, and lead to intervention. 

“So how are we going to do that in a space environment — a tin can, four individuals far from Earth?" Dorit Donoviel, director at Translational Research Institute for Space Health, said at the conference. "We are going to have to give them continuous healthcare monitoring. They are going to have to prevent the diseases before they get bad, and they are going to have to apply and personalize and simplify therapies.”

When it comes to sharing knowledge it’s a two-way street. While space may have some special circumstances that allow the research of certain conditions, such as aging, terrestrial-focused researchers have been making strides with precision medicine. 

“The holy grail will be precision medicine," Dr. Sebastian Krolop, chief operating and strategy Officer (COSO) of HIMSS, said at the Space Health Conference on Saturday. “That is going to be a game changer because suddenly we will understand and medicine won’t be reactive. You aren’t in pain, you don’t see a doctor and hopefully you do some diagnostic treatment ... That is probably the good thing if you are on a three-, six-, nine-year journey to Mars.” 



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