Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Using Digital Technologies to Improve Muscle Health in Astronauts

  Henry Cope (2019 cohort)


The aim of this project is to use digital techniques to develop the mechanistic understanding of muscle atrophy in spaceflight. If left unabated, loss of muscle mass and performance in spaceflight poses a key risk to astronaut health and success in mission critical tasks. With ambitious plans for heterogenous populations of commercial passengers and long-duration voyages to Mars, there is an urgency to elucidate the underlying causes of muscle atrophy and uncover the role of individual differences. Outside of the spaceflight context, muscle atrophy is also a key issue for patients on Earth, who may experience atrophy due to different causes such as inactivity, ageing (Sarcopenia), and muscular dystrophy. Therefore, advancements in the mechanistic understanding of this atrophic response may inform the development of countermeasures for both patients on Earth and astronauts in space.

Techniques used in this project will include bioinformatics for interpreting biological “omics” data from studies, including human ground-based studies that are analogous of spaceflight and spaceflight studies using model organisms, such as rodents and worms. Additionally, advanced computer vision solutions will be developed to enable functional analyses of experiments, including an ISS experiment for investigating muscle strength in genetic mutant worms. Ultimately, functional measures will be combined with analysis of “omics” data, to establish causal relationships between the “omics” changes, and the physiological changes.

Additionally, this project will include other activities for furthering the development of biomedical spaceflight capabilities, including the development of the governing software for a biomedical CubeSat, and investigations into the privacy, ethical and legal issues of biological data usage in human spaceflight.


Daniel Wilkinson – University of Nottingham, Medicine

Michael Pound – University of Nottingham, Computer Science

Nathaniel Szewczyk – Ohio University, Biomedical Sciences

External partner: NASA GeneLab Animal Analysis Working Group (AWG)