As people age, their bones become more susceptible to fractures, which can take months to heal and significantly affect quality of life. Osteoporosis, a progressive condition that causes bones to weaken, thereby increasing a person’s chances of fracture, impacts approximately 25 percent of women over the age of 65 and five percent of men in the same age bracket. Research conducted on the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory is helping to advance a new potential treatment for the millions of people on Earth with osteoporosis.
A group of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) leveraged microgravity conditions on the ISS National Lab to test a novel osteoporosis therapy based on a naturally produced protein, NELL-1. Most current osteoporosis treatments only slow bone breakdown, but NELL-1 has been shown to both slow breakdown and build new bone. Spaceflight induces bone loss in mice, mimicking the effects of osteoporosis and providing an accelerated model for drug testing. Through testing on the ISS National Lab, the research team was able to prove the robustness of the NELL-1 therapy and significantly improve its method of delivery.
Learn more about this investigation in the Upward feature article “Building Bones: Testing a New Osteoporosis Therapy with Mice in Microgravity” and in this video produced by UCLA Health. In the video, the UCLA researchers discuss the evolution of their opportunity to conduct research on the space station, the benefits of performing such research in space, and the discoveries made through their ISS National Lab experiment.