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Human centrifuge could benefit long-stay hospital patients

Image credit: Roae |

Patients could one day be spun around in a machine, which simulates the effects of gravity, to prevent the decline of muscle activity of patients during long hospital stays, scientists claim.

A new study will explore what happens when volunteers, subjected to 60 days of bed rest, spend 30 minutes per day strapped to a human centrifuge. The project will be carried out by Northumbria University and Manchester Metropolitan University and could also help astronauts who are sent on long missions.

“Artificial gravity could help astronauts to maintain muscle mass in space and help back here on Earth, too, by preventing severe muscle degeneration in hospitalised patients,” said Professor Hans Degens, who is leading the study from Manchester Metropolitan University.

“Currently, astronauts have to exercise for up to 2.5 hours every day, take nutrient supplements and keep high-protein diets to maintain muscle mass while they are in space. Despite this, severe muscle deterioration still occurs.”

“One day, astronauts might have a daily quick spin in a centrifuge on the ISS rather than spend hours on gym equipment in space,” Degens added. “For hospital patients it could greatly improve their recovery during rehabilitation and after they leave.”

Overall, 12 healthy mean and 12 healthy women are expected to take part in the study, with the volunteers being subjected to 60 days of bed rest, mimicking the effects of microgravity space conditions.

The researchers will also observe some of the group who will spend 30 minutes every day in the human centrifuge as it spins, carrying out a series of tests and examining muscle degeneration, as well as ways to prevent lower back pain.

“This pioneering research hopes to lessen the impact on future space flights, something which will be particularly important if we ever send humans on the long journey to Mars,” said science minister Chris Skidmore.

“It has benefits on Earth too, helping the thousands of patients who develop muscle weakness from lengthy stays in a hospital bed,” Skidmore added. “We will need to embrace new technology like this to meet the needs of our ageing society.”

The first of two tests is already underway, according to the researchers, with the second set of tests due to begin in September.

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