Physiological deconditioning changes induced by spaceflight are similar to those that occur in aging, thus leading to greater incidence of syncope and falls.
The planned research unit - which examines effects of gravitational physiology on physiology and medicine across two groups – has activities in areas of research and teaching. It aims at developing research, national and international networks, capacities as well as promoting student-orientedlearning.
R.1. Forschungseinheit/ Research Unit establishment and maintenance:
Gravitational forces influence human physiology. For example, every time we stand up 450 ml of blood move into the lower limbs within seconds. This could compromise the venous return leading to decreases in stroke volume and consequently cardiac output. Fortunately, the body compensates for the caudal fluid shifts be immediately increasing the heart rate leading to maintenance of cardiac output, global tissue perfusion and mean arterial pressure. Thus a postural change from supine to standing, in a normal healthy person, does not lead to decreases in cerebral blood and the development of syncope (orthostatic intolerance) and falls.
Gravitational effects become more pronounced when astronauts return from the microgravity environment of spaceflight or in the elderly. In both of these cases there is a higher incidence of orthostatic intolerance and syncope leading to falls related events such as fractures or prolonged hospitalization.
Spaceflight and Aging
The microgravity environment of spaceflight causes cardiovascular, neurovestibular as well as muskulo-skeletal changes. The latter include bone loss, muscle atrophy. These physiological deconditioning changes induced by spaceflight are similar to those that occur in aging, thus leading to greater incidence of syncope and falls. Falls, in turn, are associated with high morbidity as they may lead to head injuries and/ or bone fractures. In the elderly fractures of the femur are often associated with long-term immobilization, from which the patients may not be able to recover.
Therefore, spaceflight deconditioning is similar to aging. Furthermore, studies related to spaceflight deconditioning often uses ground-basedanalogues such as immobilization/ bedrest to study the effects of long-term spaceflight. As immobilization is a common feature in the elderly, data from immobilization studies are useful for understanding the processes that occur in the elderly. Postural control deficiencies and orthostatic hypotension are major contributors to falls in the elderly. It would be logical to propose that integrating information from Earth and space provides an avenue for developing new perspectives. For example, scientific insights and methodologies developed in space science research of orthostatic intolerance can be exploited to study cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and postural sensory motor control systems in male and females.
In view of our research interest in spaceflight physiology and aging, and our expertise in cardiovascular physiology, we propose the following:
R.2. Current publications of the group
Please see Appendix A
R.3.Current ongoing projects
Current projects that are ongoing/ about to start are shown in Appendix B.
List of abbreviations:
ASI: Italian Space Agency
ERAfrica: Collaborative call between Africa and EU
ESA: European Space Agency
FWF: National Research Agency, Austria
FFG: Research Agency, Austria
OeAD: Austrian international exchange fellowship
OeNB: National Bank Project, Austria
R.4.1. Please see Appendix C for our current international collaborators,
including research organizations and companies.
R.4.2. Local MUG collaborations:
Planned/ Discussions ongoing with our local collaborations:
F.1. Planned involvement in projects
F.1.1. EU action group 2 (EIP AG 2: Prevention of falls in the elderly)
We are leading this coalition of partners in the project “SYNCOFALLS” (see
Appendix D). This coalition brings together experts from:
a) Medical Univ. of Graz (MUG), Austria;
b) Karl Franzens Univ., Graz, Austria;
c) Roskilde Univ., Denmark;
d) Frederiksberg Hospital, Denmark;
e) Flemish Institute of Molecular Research (VITO), Belgium;
f) Semmelweis Univ., Hungary;
g) Univ. of Primorska, Slovenia;
h) Univ. of Bari, Italy;
i) Second Univ. of Naples, Italy;
j) Syncope and Falls in the Elderly laboratory, Harvard Univ., USA;
k) North Carolina State Univ., USA;
l) Simon Fraser Univ., Canada.
The primary focus of the coalition is to advance understanding of the fundamental mechanisms involved in responding to gravity-related stresses and how response mechanisms change with aging, a key issue in current global health.
A second focus is to develop treatment strategies for orthostatic intolerance. For example, we are researching a smart-technology-assisted therapy to assist with fluid volume control in the legs of humans with excessive swelling or standing hypotension. This involves smart stockings whose compressive pressure can be varied via external stimuli.
A third focus is to develop quantitative diagnostic tools to assess the potential for syncope and to test new countermeasures. Development will involve linking physiological information on cardiovascular and postural control and mathematical modeling to quantify interactions.
F.1.2. BIOMEDTECH initiative
In collaboration with the three Universities in Graz (Technical University, TU; Medical University of Graz, MUG; and Karl Franzens University, KFU), we are proposing a research topic “ Vessels Analysis”. This BIOMEDTECH initiative examines vessels analysis using novel techniques. Specific vessels that will be examined include retinal vessels.
F.1.3. Setting up of a Ludwig-Boltzman Institute (LBI) for Aging There was a recent call for the establishment of a LBI related to aging. We, along with our MUG partners as well as partners from other establishments, are putting up a proposal for the establishment of a LBI for aging at MUG.
Currently, the four pillars of the LBI are:
F.1.4. Aging research and grant applications:
1. With our consortium partners from EIP AG 2, we will submit one or two EU proposals related to the falls prevention initiative under the Horizon 2020 call.
2. Continue with active research in aging with partners from Slovenia (University of Primorksa). We have submitted a joint paper on the effects of immobilization on older subjects who were confined to bedrest for 2 weeks.
Additionally, we are submitting a joint FWF-Slovenia project with our partners in the next few weeks.
F.1.5. Spaceflight research and grant applications:
1. Write proposals towards upcoming bedrest and isolation studies, which are sponsored by European Space Agency (ESA).
F.1.6. Visits to laboratories (Confirmed at present)
U.1. Establishment of “Masters in Adaptive Physiology and Medicine” course (Postgraduate Diploma Course, one year). We are now designing the content of this course in our research unit as well as searching for potential international lecturers.