The nutrition program is focused almost exclusively on countermeasures, and this is in concordance with the Strategy report.
The Strategy report assigned a high priority to obtaining an in-flight hormone profile. The database on the astronaut corps collected and maintained by the Space Medicine Program at JSC contains a substantial amount of endocrine data. The NASA list does not appear to match the likely requirements for the in-flight hormone profile. Having an external panel of experts would be helpful in deciding which hormones should be measured. NASA should ensure that the database being compiled by medical operations at JSC is congruent with the Strategy report recommendation for determining the in-flight human hormone profile.
For the most part, new methodologies—particularly sensitive micromethods—are not being used in individual research programs. At the First Biennial Life Sciences Investigators’ Workshop, NASA (Ames) presented an exhibit of some advanced technologies, including the use of miniature time-of-flight mass spectrometers. At present, the endocrine programs do not appear to be taking full advantage of the advanced technologies that have been developed to make endocrine measurements for medical studies on patients.
Given the current lack of flight opportunities, the small endocrine program is reasonable. Two of the three recommendations in the Strategy report require flight data that currently cannot be obtained. The Strategy report identified determination of the in-flight endocrine profile as the highest priority for endocrine research. In the absence of flight opportunities, this goal is at present unattainable. However, no plan has been developed for obtaining a set of core data on the human endocrine response to living in low Earth orbit. Knowledge and understanding of endocrine changes with flight are essential for the refinement of ground-based models. In other studies, endocrine measurements are being made where appropriate.
Although in the past the nutrition program was inadequate, during the last two years NASA,1 the NSBRI, and this committee (Strategy report) have independently identified nutrition-energy balance as a very high priority area for future studies. NASA appears to have responded to the Strategy report by giving increased emphasis to research in nutrition. Inadequate attention is being paid to gender issues and treatment interactions.
National Research Council (NRC), Space Studies Board. 1998. A Strategy for Research in Space Biology and Medicine in the New Century. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Vernikos, J., M.F. Dallman, L.C. Keil, D. O’Hara, and V.A. Convertino. 1993. Gender differences in endocrine responses to posture and 7 days of 6-degrees head-down bed rest. Am. J. Physiol. (Endo. and Metab.) 265:E153-61.
Wronski, T.J., M. Li, Y. Shen, S.C. Miller, B.M. Bowman, P. Kostenuik, and B.P. Halloran. 1998. Lack of effect of spaceflight on bone mass and bone formation in group-housed rats. J. Appl. Physiol. 85:279-85.