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Assessing Telomere Lengths and Telomerase Activity in Astronauts (Telomeres)
Principal Investigator
Research Area:
Species Studied
Scientific Name: Homo sapiens Species: Human

While it is well established that telomere length erodes with normal aging, it is becoming increasingly appreciated that telomere length is also influenced by a variety of other factors including life stress, infection, and inflammation. Inflammation also results in oxidative stress, both being known contributors to telomere erosion. Recent research supports telomere maintenance as a key integrating component for the cumulative effects of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors on aging and aging-related diseases. The rate of telomere length change, therefore, provides an informative biomarker of biological aging. Further, dysfunction/decline of telomere length can be linked to age-related pathologies, ranging from reduced immune function and loss of fertility, to cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Preservation of telomere length requires telomerase, the specialized reverse transcriptase capable of de novo addition of telomeric repeats onto the very ends of newly synthesized telomeres. Telomerase activity is prominent in highly proliferative cells like stem, germline, and cancer, but virtually absent in normal somatic cells. Changes in diet and lifestyle have been shown to modulate telomerase activity, with healthy lifestyles and diets being positively correlated with telomere length. It has been demonstrated that ionizing radiation also influences telomeres and telomerase. However, the relationships between telomere length and telomerase activity (measured in blood lymphocytes), lifestyle factors, and environmental exposures are largely unknown. The investigators speculate that for the astronauts, telomere maintenance represents a particularly relevant biomarker, as it reflects the combined exposures and experiences encountered during space travel. That is, an individual astronaut’s genetic susceptibilities, exposures to galactic space radiations, nutritional, physical, and psychological stressors encountered, are all captured as changes of telomere length maintenance; telomeres don't forget.

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Data Information
Data Availability
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Telomerase activity
Telomere length

Mission/Study Information
Mission Launch/Start Date Landing/End Date Duration
Expedition 44 06/10/2015 09/11/2015 93 days
Expedition 45 09/11/2015 12/11/2015 91 days
Expedition 46 12/11/2015 03/02/2016 82 days
Expedition 47 03/02/2016 06/18/2016 108 days
Expedition 48 06/18/2016 09/06/2016 80 days
Expedition 49 09/06/2016 10/30/2016 54 days
Expedition 50 10/28/2016 04/09/2017 164 days
Expedition 51 04/09/2017 06/02/2017 55 days
Expedition 52 06/02/2017 09/02/2017 92 days

Human Research Program (HRP) Human Research Roadmap (HRR) Information
Crew health and performance is critical to successful human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The Human Research Program (HRP) investigates and mitigates the highest risks to human health and performance, providing essential countermeasures and technologies for human space exploration. Risks include physiological and performance effects from hazards such as radiation, altered gravity, and hostile environments, as well as unique challenges in medical support, human factors, and behavioral health support. The HRP utilizes an Integrated Research Plan (IRP) to identify the approach and research activities planned to address these risks, which are assigned to specific Elements within the program. The Human Research Roadmap is the web-based tool for communicating the IRP content.

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Additional Information
Managing NASA Center
Johnson Space Center (JSC)
Responsible NASA Representative
Johnson Space Center LSDA Office
Project Manager: Pamela A. Bieri
Institutional Support
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Alternate Experiment Name
Proposal Date
Proposal Source
2012 Crew Health NNJ12ZSA