The polar station, a space simulator
During this month-long mission, Sarah Baatout will perform research on the impact of extreme living conditions on the human body. The radiobiologist will this time study the station crew who takes on the role of the astronauts. She will take several kinds of samples such as blood before, during and after their stay in Antarctica. The samples will then be analysed at the station and in SCK•CEN’s laboratories. The analyses will provide us invaluable information on, namely, the stress level of volunteers and the effect of this special environment on their immune system. Once there, Sarah will also try out a whole series of drugs that astronauts bring with them during their space missions. The drugs will be tested on their stability and resistance to radiation.
The researcher will study the properties of spirulina in extreme conditions. This green algae which is already used by astronauts as a dietary supplement could have beneficial effects on intestinal flora, often deteriorated by the stress level.
This research, which enables human space flights, facilitates progress in medicine. The best example is proton therapy which stems from space research. Today’s mission will help develop the medical kit of tomorrow’s astronauts.
The Belgian Nuclear Research Centre also participates in promising research to fight against aids and cancer. In space, the human body is no longer subject to gravity which alters the blood flow in the organism. The blood then gathers in the upper body. By noticing the abundance of blood at the carotid’s level, the organism produces fewer white and red blood cells. The body is said to be immunodeficient. Thanks to on-earth simulation of these conditions, Sarah Baatout participates in several studies which aim to improve radiotherapeutic treatments. All these projects are supported by Belspo.
Sharing her experience with youngsters was crystal clear for this voracious researcher who gets involved in numerous educational projects. “I managed to get an hour of internet every day”, says Sarah Baatout, head of Radiobiology Unit at SCK•CEN, with much enthusiasm. “Through videoconferences, I will make the most of this time to explain to primary and secondary school classes what my mission is. I hope I will pass on my passion for science and give rise to some vocations!”