Medicine & Biotechnology

Space Medicine studies the interaction of physiological processes with the space environment. Orbiting systems (spacecraft and space stations) are systems in “free fall” with respect to the gravitational field; inside these systems gravity is compensated and subjects experience weightlessness; this effect has various impacts on the body. The absence of gravity due to phenomena such as the early onset of diseases such as osteoporosis, muscle atrophy, impaired motor, cardiovascular, respiratory, psychological control.  Another effect is the increased space cosmic background radiation and its impact on biological matter.  The study of this kind of phenomena on orbit – on human, animal and cell models – allows the identification of countermeasures in view of the long flights for human exploration; it also increases knowledge to be used in the current on earth clinical practice. ALTEC participated in the major three-year programs promoted by the Italian Space Agency ASI:

  •   OSMA Osteoporosis and muscle atrophy
  •   DCMC Disorders of Motor and Cardio-respiratory Control
  •   MoMa Biotechnology from Molecules to Man

These programs involved various on ground and in orbit researches at cell, animal and human level, and involved participation of dozens of research institutes, hundreds of researchers and a variety of industries. Collected data are providing new knowledge on topics with immediate impact in terms of population well-being and are essential in the perspective of planetary colonization.

The three programs involved the use of on-orbit facilities developed by ASI (MDS, HPA, ELITE-S2, ALTEA). 
In the frame of OSMA ALTEC also supplied important services to ASI experiment MDS (Mice Drawer System). MDS is a space stabularium that accommodated 6 mice for 90 days on the ISS, establishing a record of exposure to the microgravity for animals models and re-entering to earth the 28th, November 2009. Associated to program MDS, ASI promoted a complex international program of biological tissue sharing, that allowed team of scientists spread on three continents (Americans, Italians, Belgian, Germans, Canadians, and Japanese) to benefit of the data of this extraordinary mission.
The entities that collaborate to ASI programs include Universities  of Medicine and Biotechnology, Research Institutes and Industries, all sharing the task of developing the scientific aspects of the proposed initiatives and to achieve the equipment for on-orbit testing.
The implementation of programs of Medicine and Biotechnology implies:

  •   use of integrated research on the ground and in orbit, at various levels: cellular, animal, human;
  •   management coordination between the agencies involved;
  •   support the identification of opportunities and requirements for testing in orbit;
  •   feasibility studies and hypotheses of experiments accommodation on existing systems and following stages of design, development, testing, integration into the flight, launch, mission;
  •   preparation and implementation of the space missions needed for scientific validation.

ALTEC was involved as the Lead of Industries (OSMA) and Head of Operations (DCMC and MOMA).
In particular for the program OSMA ALTEC performed the following activities:

  •   Project Office Support: support the University of Bari for Project Control and Configuration Management.
  •   Project Spatialisation: support to coordination and interface of flight events, support the identification and refinement of new requirements for space missions by the scientific team.
  •   Coordination of the industries for the production of the needed space equipment.
  •   Review and consolidation of requirements and feasibility of the identified missions.
  •   Support for launching / landing and real-time operations from the ALTEC – Mission Operations Control Centre.

In OSMA, for MDS, ALTEC coordinated the shipment of hundreds of highly perishable biological samples from the shuttle landing NASA base to researchers around the world. During the program DCMC, ALTEC supported audio / video links from the Space Station during the execution of experiments ELITE – S2 and HPA.

In the frame of medicine and biology applications, ALTEC is also promoting among scientists the use of the Neutral Buoyancy Test Facility NBTF (a unique pool completely out of the ground, equipped with three huge windows and a control room with audio/video connection to the subject under test) as a powerful tool to support neuroscience research in studies about e.g. orientation, equilibrium, locomotion, space perception, attitude, physiological parameters control, internal gravity models, and capability to forecast objects motion. 

Different levels of study of the muscle atrophy and osteoporosis within program OSMA:


OSMA e il ruolo dell’industria (pdf)
MDS e ruolo ALTEC (pdf)
Virtual Reality in Neutral Buoancy for Neuroscience (pdf)