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July 10, 2017 at 4:39 pm

Biology Alum Sending Rodent Research Project to International Space Station

Ohio University alum Dr. Jeffrey Willey ’99, ’01M is part of NASA’s Rodent Research-9 mission that will be sending a science payload to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Rocket scheduled for August 10.

Jeffrey Willey

Jeffrey Willey

Willey, who earned both a B.S. and M.S. in Biological Sciences from the College of Arts & Sciences, is Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at Wake Forest School of Medicine. He earned a Ph.D. from Clemson University.

“My project is characterizing arthritis that is caused by prolonged spaceflight,” Willey says. His NASA-funded research includes examining how “maintaining musculoskeletal health during long-duration spaceflight is crucial for ensuring both mission success and full skeletal recovery upon returning to Earth. The damaging effects of microgravity on the soft tissues of the knee and hip joints remain undefined,” he says on his research lab page. “There is considerable evidence that soft tissue damage in these joints can occur with reduced loading.

“The degradation of the hip and knee joint during prolonged spaceflight has the potential to cause arthritis, debilitating joint pain, impaired mobility, and reduce the astronaut’s quality of life upon return to earth. Our laboratory is funded by NASA to investigate how unloading during spaceflight can i] lead to overall degradation of the knee and hip joints, and ii] to identify if this degradation can be recovered using aerobic and resistance exercise countermeasures. To address these aims, we will send mice to the International Space Station for a period of 30 days, and then identify both joint damage and recovery after landing.”

The science objectives of the Rodent Research-9 mission—Effects of Spaceflight on the Musculoskeletal and Neurovascular Systems and Their Implications in Mice—studies how microgravity affects the immune systems, muscles and bones of rodents during extended stays aboard the International Space Station. The investigators will:

  • Perform scientific operations to determine spaceflight-related responses to stressors associated with space missions.
  • Assess the mechanisms involved in the previously reported adverse effects of spaceflight on human health using the mouse, an animal model flown in the Rodent Research hardware.
  • Aim to better understand and assess the effect of microgravity on rodents that may provide insight into human health on future long duration missions.

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