Astronauts to test the healing power of shrimps
Sun, 29th Jul 2007
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from the show Naked Science Question & Answer Show
American astronauts intend to test out a chemical found in the shells of shrimps that may help with healing in case of an accident on a long duration space mission.
Unfortunately our human bodies are not well adapted to coping with weightlessness. Our muscles waste away and so do our bones and it even effects astronauts immune systems. Bacteria, however seem to thrive under zero g. The Russian Mir space station was overrun by a bacterial colony that began making astronauts sick and similar biological activity is arising on the international space station. It’s therefore vital that if an astronaut is injured we are capable of treating them. This may be particularly important in future long duration missions. NASA is aiming to put astronauts on Mars in the next 20-30 years and it will be an 18 month round trip with no ability to head home quickly in a medical emergency.
The chemical being tested is called chitin and is found in the shells of sea creatures and insects. It is a natural antibacterial agent that works by carrying an electric charge that attracts the surface of the bacteria, this kills them or stops them multiplying. The tests involve comparing mixtures of chitin, human white blood cells and bacteria fragments flown in zero g with identical mixtures on Earth.
Chitin is already being used by the US army, who impregnate bandages with the healing agent, and the work in space may allow the further development of treatment techniques back on Earth.