How does space travel affect the bone health of a pregnant woman? NASA wants to find out, and it has recently awarded a space biology grant to TCNJ Biomedical Engineering’s Dr. Anthony Lau and Dr. Heather Allaway of Louisiana State University to study this subject.
“If we wanted to go populate deep space, you would expect that people would need to safely procreate outside the protective magnetic field we have on Earth.” said Lau. “They are going to be exposed to ionizing radiation, and therefore we want to make sure the baby as well as the mother does not have any compromised bone health from this exposure.”
The NASA grant will help Dr. Lau and Dr. Allaway investigate skeletal health changes from exposure to radiation while pregnant. Dr. Lau also plans to involve his TCNJ students in this research.
“We have high-resolution medical imaging to quantify bone microstructural health beyond simple bone density used in the clinical setting,” said Lau, “and we have developed techniques for students to do quantitative analysis on bone health using those bone scans.”
NASA recently completed Artemis I, the first of a series of missions that will return humans to the moon. As one of NASA’s goals with the Artemis program is to land the first woman on the moon, Dr. Lau’s research will be especially important in this new age of space exploration.
“During pregnancy, we know that is a period of high bone turnover,” Dr. Lau explained. “You’re forming a new body. “We know those bone cells are going to be active during that time, which creates a higher risk of unintended skeletal changes from radiation exposure.”
– Matthew Kaufman ’25