Twins Spend 30 Days in Bed For Space-Age Technology Healing 


October 31, 2005 

To help future NASA missions, young adult twins from across the U.S. are participating in a University of California, San Diego (UCSD) identical twin research study that requires the subjects to spend 30 days in bed.

The NASA bed-rest/exercise research will begin July 12 at UCSD Medical Center’s General Clinical Research Center. The twins are not allowed to stand, or even sit; everything is done in bed and their bodies are always tilted down at a six-degree angle, mimicking the effects of weightlessness.

The research project, which as been going on since 1999 with 13 sets of twins studied since the project began, will help scientists understand what happens to people physically when they are confined to bed rest. This information will help explain what happens to astronauts in space, because lack of gravity is almost the physical equivalent. The UCSD team also is studying a new way to provide “artificial gravity” so that the health and safety of astronauts is maintained in space.

With the toss of a coin, one twin will be assigned to strict bed rest without exercise, while the other twin will also be assigned to strict bed rest but perform 45 minutes of exercise each day, six days a week while lying down. Russian cosmonauts used to exercise 2 to 3 hours per day and their bodies still suffered from the deconditioning of space flight. The UCSD Team is testing a NASA-developed, exercise device that creates artificial gravity, much like a household vacuum cleaner. It is essentially a treadmill mounted inside a suction chamber.

“This is a very difficult and challenging protocol for the twins,” said Alan Hargens, Ph.D., Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, UCSD School of Medicine.

The twins will spend their time in bed reading, watching television, studying, using the Internet and playing video games. Everything has to be done in bed (bathroom and shower as well). The research is supported by NASA’s Ames Research Center and Johnson Space Center as well as from an NIH grant to the UCSD General Clinical Research Center.

The space-age technology from NASA has also been applied to UCSD patients recovering from surgery by allowing upright exercise at a fraction of body weight. Putting too much weight back on surgically repaired bones or joints can often be a painful destructive experience. Using positive pressure to lift a patient off a treadmill helps repair bones and joints, enabling the patients to exercise comfortably immediately after surgery.

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Eileen Callahan

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UCSD School of Medicine

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