November 16, 2012

Long-duration bedrest experiment at MEDES in Toulouse

Why are 12 volunteers about to spend 21 days in bed, lying with their heads tilted below horizontal? Their experience will help to understand changes in astronauts’ bodies in space as well as in bedridden people on Earth.

14 november 2012

21 days without standing

The experiment will be conducted at MEDES, the French institute for space medicine and physiology in Toulouse, of which CNES was one of the founding members in 1989. But it won’t be all rest and relaxation for the volunteers in this bedrest study, who will undergo exhausting and monotonous batteries of tests and examinations without even being allowed to get up at all for a breath of fresh air, a change of scenery, a shower or to use the toilet. What’s more, they are expected to repeat their 21-day ordeal twice in the space of one year.

As we age, our bodies lose bone density and muscle strength. Astronauts in space suffer similar changes, only at a much faster rate. Finding ways to combat this process is crucial to space agencies, hospital patients and everyone who plans to stay healthy in their old age. In the name of progress, the participants will be subjected to scientific scrutiny to see how they adapt to staying in bed for long periods.

This research is the latest in a long line of international bedrest studies aimed at developing and testing countermeasures to ageing, both natural and accelerated in space. Putting people in bed with their heads 6° below horizontal for long periods causes their bodies to react in similar ways to when in weightless conditions, but is cheaper and far safer than sending them into space.

Bodybuilding in bed

For this study, the 12 volunteers are divided into 3 groups to test a set of countermeasures to muscle loss. A first control group will spend 21 days in bed without any countermeasures, while a second group follows a schedule using vibrating exercise machines.

The last group will also use the exercise machines and eat nutritional supplements of whey protein, a common supplement used by bodybuilders to sculpt their muscles. Although the properties of whey protein are well known to bodybuilders, will it help to maintain muscle strength without spending hours in the gym?

The volunteers will change groups over the course of the experiment. This means that after the first 21-day session they will return to MEDES for another session and once more in 2013 for a final session. The volunteers will have 4 months between each bedrest session to recuperate and take a well-earned rest.

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