Marshall professor receives grant from NASA

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A Marshall University professor received a $15,381 grant from NASA to study microgravity and how astronauts can avoid muscle decay from being in space.

Kumika Toma is an assistant professor and the undergraduate exercise program director at Marshall. She explained that when astronauts go out into orbit, they experience microgravity, and while they are floating in their spaceships and space stations, the body requires a lot less energy than when they were on Earth because their muscles don’t have to fight off gravity.

The human body is an extremely efficient system and will only use the muscles that it needs to. The muscles that are needed for standing up, having good posture and walking will deteriorate in space as they are not being used because the microgravity takes care of those things for the astronauts.

Toma said this can cause problems for astronauts when they come back from space, as the recovery process to get their muscles up to tip top shape again is long and strenuous. The problem is even more exaggerated by the fact that most astronauts are in their late 30’s and 40’s due to the extensive training they have to undergo prior to space travel, so their bodies aren’t in the prime condition to recover like they would be if they were in their mid 20’s. Toma is also taking the sex of the subject into account while doing the experiments.

Toma seeks to find ways to counteract these effects through the NASA grant. Some of the experiments she is trying places rats in a zero gravity state through a special type of suspension harness. The harness holds the rats in the air and keeps their limbs from moving with their head down to simulate the type of blood flow an astronaut would have in space.

She is experimenting to see if continuous stretching of the leg muscles of the rat throughout the zero gravity state will cause the leg muscles to not deteriorate as much. This research will help to see if stretching would be a good countermeasure to fight muscle weakness.

Toma said any of the research she finds can be related to everyone’s life. Muscle deterioration effects almost everyone as they get older and she said her research may help in the fight to combat that, as well.

Noah Gillispie can be contacted at [email protected]

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