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Review of NASA’s Biomedical Research Program
particular the neuroendocrine system, that could contribute to compromised resistance to infections and tumors in spaceflight. These recommendations are discussed in greater detail in Appendix A.
NASA’S CURRENT RESEARCH PROGRAM IN IMMUNOLOGY AND MICROBIOLOGY
In FY 1999, nine grants for immunology and microbiology (including funding for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI)) were funded, at a level of approximately $1.160 million (see Table 7.1). These include investigations at Johnson Space Center (JSC), the NSBRI program, and other extramural NASA Research Announcement (NRA)-supported laboratories. Ames Research Center (ARC) is not currently involved in studies in immunology and microbiology. Late in 1999, four new immunology-related projects were approved through the Gravitational Biology and Ecology (GB&E) program of the NRA process for a total funding of about $265,000. Studies are well coordinated between JSC and NSBRI laboratories and between JSC and independent university laboratories for the immunology and microbiology disciplines.
For FY1999, one additional grant was funded by the Biomedical Research and Countermeasures (BR&C) program, and five basic research grants were funded by the GB&E program. There is no specific request for proposals in immunology or microbiology in the FY 2000 NASA Research Announcements for Biomedical Research and Countermeasures, but the call for physiology experiments could encompass immunology and microbiology (NASA, 1999b). Immunology and microbiology remain areas of relatively low priority for NASA-funded research.
There is considerable overlap and integration between the fields of immunology and microbiology. Experiments focus on the effects of spaceflight on immunological parameters. In-flight and ground-based studies in analogue settings, such as Antarctic overwintering, on human immune responses and resistance to infections are ongoing and planned. Additionally, an animal model (rodent hindlimb unloading) is being used to test the effects of spaceflight on immune responses and resistance to viral and bacterial infection. There are also studies using animal models to determine possible effects of spaceflight on the development of immune responses. In addition, there are very active ongoing research programs on the rapid identification of microorganisms and the effects of the spaceflight environment and ground-based models on microbial growth that are supported by NSBRI and NASA.
The priorities outlined in the Strategy report are beginning to be considered. Studies to determine whether changes in immune parameters induced by spaceflight conditions affect resistance to infection were a priority of the Strategy report. JSC, NSBRI, and NRA-funded university investigators have undertaken both ground-based and spaceflight studies to address the question of reactivation of latent
TABLE 7.1 Summary of FY 1999 Funding for Immunology and Microbiology
Total ($ thousands)
No. of Projects
Total ($ thousands)
No. of Projects
NOTE: The bulk of NRA funding for immunology and microbiology comes from the GB&E program (now the FBRP) and not from the Biomedical Research and Countermeasures program.