OMICS in Space: NASA Video Seeks to Advance Personalized Medicine on Terra Firma

August 5, 2016

To highlight its new Twins Study—and to coincide with National Twins Day—NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) is releasing a new video entitled "Omics: Advancing Personalized Medicine from Space to Earth." This is the final video in a series of eight which explores space through you by using omics to look more closely at the unique health of an individual. 

Omics is a compilation of disciplines focused on measuring the diverse array of biomolecules. It combines genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, epigenomics, metabolomics, and microbiomics, in order to visualize a larger, more comprehensive picture of the human body at a fundamental, highly granular level.

Investigators on the twin study are utilizing omics to compare molecular data of retired, identical twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly. The study compared nearly identical genomes of one twin, Scott, on a defined diet, strict exercise regime, scripted daily work schedule, and space stressors, against Mark, the other twin, on Earth engaged in normal life. The identical genome comparison allows researchers to focus on the other molecular effects of the integrated spaceflight environment.

Researchers are beginning to see more molecular reactions between biomolecules than ever before. Moreover, as medical technologies improve, scientists are discovering that fluctuations in DNA, RNA, proteins, metabolites, and the microbiome influence physiological and behavioral changes in an individual as well as the propensity to develop disease.

"I am confident omics will be part of upcoming International Space Station missions and the Mars missions,” explained John Charles, Ph.D., Chief Scientist at NASA’s Human Research Program. “The potential for this research is valuable in terms of understanding what happens to astronauts in space flight. Additionally, new approaches and techniques we learn from the Twins Study can be used more directly with a large benefit to NASA researchers and crews and hopefully to patients here on Earth."

Researchers still have some hurdles to overcome before omics profiles are commonplace in clinical settings, such as addressing the challenge of interpreting, storing, and securing massive amounts of data.

A large, collaborative team of researchers are contributing to the fascinating field of omics, and NASA is adding twin astronauts into the equation. The Twins Study is NASA's first step to establishing a foundation and methodology to integrate space-related omics with traditional scientific activities, research plans, and data to understand how to develop a more personalized approach to reducing health risks to astronauts. This may lead to personalized countermeasure packages to heighten the safety and performance of individual astronauts as they explore space. It's hoped that one-day omics research conducted around the globe along with NASA's research could lead to longer, happier and healthier lives for all of us here on Earth.

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