Astronauts tend to get sick, and Millie Hughes-Fulford of the Northern California Institute for Research and Education and the University of California at San Francisco, who actually flew on a NASA shuttle in the 1980s, wants to find out why, according to the Mercury Daily News. She will be aided by 16 JAX Mice from Bar Harbor, ME-based Jackson Laboratory that have been helping scientists study the effects of space environments on immune systems through their journey on the Space Shuttle Discovery.
The mice will help scientists determine whether astronauts can generate enough immune response to fight infections in space. More specifically, Hughes-Fulford and others will look at the rodents' memory T cells, which could determine whether vaccination would be useful before spaceflight, according to the Bangor Daily News.
NASA/Ames researcher Eduardo Almeida also sent millions of mouse stem cells on the same shuttle flight, hoping to find clues about a constellation of space-traveler maladies: weakened bones and muscles, and compromised immune systems. The astronauts' maladies are similar to muscular-skeletal diseases in paralyzed or comatose patients on Earth, Almeida says, as quoted by the Mercury Daily News, and to the weakening of the immune system with aging, according to Hughes-Fulford. She has seen young astronauts come down with shingles, which commonly occurs in people past the age of 60.
"It's not the first time our mice have been in space, but it's pretty neat," Jackson Lab spokeswoman Joyce Peterson says, as quoted by the Bangor Daily News. Two dozen Maine mice joined the space shuttle Endeavor on a mission in 2001 to study the effects of a no-gravity environment on bone density, Peterson adds.