NASA bio implant may slow muscle deterioration in astronauts

NASA is experimenting with a bio implant that may help slow the rate of muscle deterioration in astronauts. The experiment involves rodents that spend time on the International Space Station and Earth, some with a placebo, others with a nano channel drug delivery chip. This chip delivers drugs to the animal's system, potentially helping reduce muscle loss experienced in low-gravity environments.

The work is being done under the name Rodent Research -6, otherwise known as RR-6. The work involves two different groups of mice, each group with 20 rodents. These groups live on the ISS for one and two months, after which point they return to researchers on Earth. The animals are then euthanized and muscle is extracted so that it can be compared to muscle tissue from mice that were kept on Earth.

The John Space Center explained the research in a recently published video, where it explained that this research may also "have implications" for Earth-bound individuals suffering from a muscle-wasting disease. Both the nano channel drug delivery chip and the compound itself are being tested as part of this experiment.

The chip is implanted beneath the recipient's skin, where it then provides a constant, steady amount of the medication. The implant doesn't have any sort of pumping mechanism, which allows it to be very small. This work is being done in partnership with NanoMedical Systems and Norvartis, according to NASA's site dedicated to the RR-6 experiment.

Muscle loss in microgravity environments is a big concern for NASA, which is eyeing longer deep-space missions that have big — and still largely unknown — health consequences. One consequence is the loss of muscle tissue from disuse or lower gravity. Astronauts on the ISS exercise regularly to address this issue, but that only does so much. A compound and delivery system like this may ensure muscle tissue is maintained, enabling astronauts to spend longer periods of time in space.