Forces associated with launch into space do not impact bone fracture healing

Paul Childress, Alexander Brinker, Cynthia May S. Gong, Jonathan Harris, David J. Olivos, Jeffrey D. Rytlewski, David C. Scofield, Sungshin Y. Choi, Yasaman Shirazi-Fard, Todd O. McKinley, Tien Min G. Chu, Carolynn L. Conley, Nabarun Chakraborty, Rasha Hammamieh, Melissa A. Kacena

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations


Segmental bone defects (SBDs) secondary to trauma invariably result in a prolonged recovery with an extended period of limited weight bearing on the affected limb. Soldiers sustaining blast injuries and civilians sustaining high energy trauma typify such a clinical scenario. These patients frequently sustain composite injuries with SBDs in concert with extensive soft tissue damage. For soft tissue injury resolution and skeletal reconstruction a patient may experience limited weight bearing for upwards of 6 months. Many small animal investigations have evaluated interventions for SBDs. While providing foundational information regarding the treatment of bone defects, these models do not simulate limited weight bearing conditions after injury. For example, mice ambulate immediately following anesthetic recovery, and in most cases are normally ambulating within 1–3 days post-surgery. Thus, investigations that combine disuse with bone healing may better test novel bone healing strategies. To remove weight bearing, we have designed a SBD rodent healing study in microgravity (µG) on the International Space Station (ISS) for the Rodent Research-4 (RR-4) Mission, which launched February 19, 2017 on SpaceX CRS-10 (Commercial Resupply Services). In preparation for this mission, we conducted an end-to-end mission simulation consisting of surgical infliction of SBD followed by launch simulation and hindlimb unloading (HLU) studies. In brief, a 2 mm defect was created in the femur of 10 week-old C57BL6/J male mice (n = 9–10/group). Three days after surgery, 6 groups of mice were treated as follows: 1) Vivarium Control (maintained continuously in standard cages); 2) Launch Negative Control (placed in the same spaceflight-like hardware as the Launch Positive Control group but were not subjected to launch simulation conditions); 3) Launch Positive Control (placed in spaceflight-like hardware and also subjected to vibration followed by centrifugation); 4) Launch Positive Experimental (identical to Launch Positive Control group, but placed in qualified spaceflight hardware); 5) Hindlimb Unloaded (HLU, were subjected to HLU immediately after launch simulation tests to simulate unloading in spaceflight); and 6) HLU Control (single housed in identical HLU cages but not suspended). Mice were euthanized 28 days after launch simulation and bone healing was examined via micro-Computed Tomography (µCT). These studies demonstrated that the mice post-surgery can tolerate launch conditions. Additionally, forces and vibrations associated with launch did not impact bone healing (p =.3). However, HLU resulted in a 52.5% reduction in total callus volume compared to HLU Controls (p =.0003). Taken together, these findings suggest that mice having a femoral SBD surgery tolerated the vibration and hypergravity associated with launch, and that launch simulation itself did not impact bone healing, but that the prolonged lack of weight bearing associated with HLU did impair bone healing. Based on these findings, we proceeded with testing the efficacy of FDA approved and novel SBD therapies using the unique spaceflight environment as a novel unloading model on SpaceX CRS-10.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-62
Number of pages11
JournalLife Sciences in Space Research
StatePublished - Feb 2018


  • Fracture healing
  • Hindlimb unloading
  • Launch simulation
  • Spaceflight

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiation
  • Ecology
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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    Childress, P., Brinker, A., Gong, C. M. S., Harris, J., Olivos, D. J., Rytlewski, J. D., Scofield, D. C., Choi, S. Y., Shirazi-Fard, Y., McKinley, T. O., Chu, T. M. G., Conley, C. L., Chakraborty, N., Hammamieh, R., & Kacena, M. A. (2018). Forces associated with launch into space do not impact bone fracture healing. Life Sciences in Space Research, 16, 52-62.