Charite in Space | Space Medicine Experiment of Charité Scientists to fly with the German Astronaut Alexander Gerst to the International Space Station (ISS) in Summer 2018

In summer 2018 a space life science experiment from scientists of the Berlin Center of Space Medicine at the Charite Berlin will fly with the German ESA Astronaut Alexander Gerst on his next 6 month mission to the ISS. The MYOTONES experiment lead by Professor Dieter Blottner (Principal Investigator), head of Neuromuscular System Group at the Charite Center of Anatomy and his team for the first time investigates the effects of microgravity on resting muscle tone and related fascia and tendon structures that shape the human resting muscle tone (HRMT) system. Normal muscle tone is a likely indicator for regular health status that is apparently changed in clinical populations due to disuse, pain, inflammation or some injury (known as muscle firmness, rigidity or tiredness). Altered muscle tone in clinical practice is usually determined by inspection and subjective palpation. Limited information is available if microgravity causes changes to the resting muscle tone that is recoverable by appropriate inflight exercise during a mission and MYOTONES will be tested pre-, in-and post-flight.

When launched to Space ESA Astronaut Gerst travels with a small handheld MyotonPRO device sized of a smartphone for non-invasive digital palpation of muscle onboard the ISS (right photo shows device during a calf muscle measurement on the ground, credit D.B.). Onboard the ISS, the astronaut will perform several measurements on the muscle of his free floating body. The probe of the device is positioned to premarked skin points over a given superficial muscle. In this way, muscle tone data are collected automatically muscle by muscle and immediately stored by the device almost in realtime. Ultrasound images will be also collected to document the anatomical configuration of muscle itself, tendon, fascia, and other soft tissue components from the same skin point region. All data (biomechanical and ultrasound) will be downlinked and analysed by the scientific team on the ground. Data interpretation includes key biomechanical parameters such as resting muscle tone, elasticity and stiffness or image analysis of biological soft tissue dimensions. Data from the astronautˊs HRMT system in space can be used by the scientists to monitor muscle health of crew during a mission.

The expected findings from the MYOTONES experiment in coming years first of all will improve basic knowledge of physiological adaptation mechanisms to support normal resting muscle tone on the ground and in future long term missions to deep space habitation (Moon, Mars). The objective data collection with the user-friendly digital palpation device used for MYOTONES probably has the potential to improve clinical practice standards in the near future related to dysgenesis of infantile muscle (muscle dystrophy) or other acquired diseases (paralysis), to apparently healthy populations (fitness monitoring), injury in sports, orthopaedic surgery, neuro-rehabilitation (M. Parkinson,  stroke, nerve lesions, muscle diseases), as well as to aging mechanisms (sarcopenia, deficits in sensomotory performance). MYOTONES is an international cooperation between EU scientists sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA), UK Space Agency (UKSpace), German Space Agency (DLR e.V., Bonn), German Federal Department of Economics and Technology (BMWi/DLR) grant #50WB6044 (to D.B.), and Charité Universitaetsmedizin Berlin.