HERO Twin Astronaut Study - NASA Human Research

NASA Image ISS045E028258 - NASA astronaut Scott Kelly gives himself a flu shot for an ongoing study on the human immune system.

NASA Image: JSC2015E089532 - View of former astronaut Mark Kelly during his flu shot in support of the Twin Studies with his brother Scott Kelly.

Twins Study is ten separate investigations coordinating together and sharing all data and analysis as one large, integrated research team. NASA has selected 10 investigations to conduct with identical twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly. These investigations will provide broader insight into the subtle effects and changes that may occur in spaceflight as compared to Earth by studying two individuals who have the same genetics, but are in different environments for one year. The studies are broadly classified under the four categories:

  1. Human Physiology: These investigations will look at how the spaceflight environment may induce changes in different organs like the heart, muscles or brain. 
  2. Behavioral Health: This investigation will help characterize the effects spaceflight may have on perception and reasoning, decision making and alertness.
  3. Microbiology/Microbiome: This investigation will explore the brothers’ dietary differences and stressors to find out how both affect the organisms in the twins’ guts. 
  4. Molecular / Omics: These investigations will look at the way genes in the cells are turned on and off as a result of spaceflight; and how stressors like radiation, confinement and microgravity prompt changes in the proteins and metabolites gathered in biological samples like blood, saliva, urine and stool. 

Two of the ten investigators are from Stanford University. One is Prof Emmanuel Mignot, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and director of the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. Other is Prof Michael Snyder, professor and chair of Genetics, and director of the Stanford Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine.

Mark and Scott Kelly are both Engineers, retired US Navy Captains and now retired Astronauts. Mark Kelly retired from NASA in 2011 and his space missions are:

  1. 2001: STS-108 (12 days)
  2. 2006: STS-121 (13 days)
  3. 2008: STS-124 (14 days)
  4. 2011: STS-134 (16 days)

Scott Kelly retired from NASA in 2016. His space missions are:

  1. 1999: STS-103 (8 days)
  2. 2007: STS-118 (13 days)
  3. 2010: International Space Station, Expeditions 25-26 (159 days)
  4. 2015: International Space Station, Expeditions 43-45 (340 days). The twin study was conducted during this mission.

Immunomics, PI Emmanuel Mignot

The plots show two individuals, 13391 (top) and 14366 (bottom). Each plot shows α CD4 cells before/after flu vaccination shots. The scatter plot shows the normalized comparison of the CDR clones and their frequency being compared before and after. In the box plot, we see before /after usage of V and J regions, in the CDR region. There are known associations with specific V and J sequences with disease state. 

HERO Twin Astronaut Study Consortium (TASC) Project: Characterizing Personalized Changes in Baseline Immune Abnormalities and Stimulated Immune Response in the Presence of a Benign Trivalent, Inactivated, Flu Vaccination

The space environment is known to have an effect on a person’s immune system. Taking two genetic similar subjects, one in space and one on Earth, will allow for a detailed study of spaceflight-induced degradation of the immune system over an extended period of time. The study will also characterize how long-term space effects change at baseline and after the seasonal flu vaccination. Baseline and post-vaccination are studied before, during and after the flight. (More)

Video below is courtsey NASA, featuring Dr. Emmanuel Mignot.

Multi-omics Analysis, PI Michael Snyder

Chen R. et al., Personal Omics Profiling Reveals Dynamic Molecular and Medical Phenotypes. Cell. 148: 6, 1293-1307

HERO Twin Astronaut Study Consortium (TASC) Project:  Longitudinal Integrated Multi-omics Analysis of the Biomolecular Effects of Space Travel

Although identical twins are genetically almost the same, differences in environment, diet and other outside factors can affect their health in different ways. The Twins Study is an integrated compilation of ten studies at multiple research centers that examines the effects of space travel on twin astronauts, one of whom stays on the International Space Station for one year while his twin remains on Earth. This study analyzes all biomedical and molecular data collected by the other nine Twins Study researchers to produce the single most comprehensive view of how the human body responds to the rigors of spaceflight.

Video below is courtsey NASA, featuring Dr. Snyder. These are a series of 8 videos. And you can reach the others from the first one.