NASA conducts research on osteoporosis in astronauts

In an effort to uncover several mysteries regarding bone loss and osteoporosis, NASA and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are awarding grants to biomedical engineers. The funds will provide researchers with access to the unique microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station, in order to uncover why astronauts return from space with weakened bones.

Congress opened the U.S. portion of the facility to federal agencies, university and private sector researchers by designating the station as a national laboratory.

"The beauty of this initiative is that it offers an unprecedented opportunity for benefitting human health on earth," said Stephen I. Katz, director of the NIH's National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

NIH is hosting three rounds of competition for the initiative. The first series of grants will total an estimated $1,323,000 per project.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately eight million women and two million men currently have the condition in the U.S., with another 34 million estimated to have low bone mass. Affected bone can become brittle and fracture with minor falls, and in severe cases, a bone can break from a sneeze.