An extraordinary study to test artificial gravity !

François Xavier took part in the last bed-rest study which took place in June-July 2010 in the Médès Space Clinic of Toulouse, France.
As a volunteer, he underwent the study’s protocol aimed at testing artificial gravity as a counter measure to combat the negative effects of weightlessness during space flights, through anti-orthostatic bed-rest (-6°).

Could you tell us how this study was conducted?

We were 12 volunteers and we all took part in 3 different sessions lasting 15 days each, with 5 days bed-rest each time. Each session involved a protocol of placement in artificial gravity conditions : one session with 30 minutes centrifugation, one session with 6 centrifugations of 5 minutes each and a last control session in which the centrifuge was not used, but we had 40 minutes of bed rest during the day at 0° as opposed to -6 ° the rest of the time. The volunteers were divided into 3 different groups and followed one of the protocols at each session. I personally followed the 30 minute centrifugation protocol during the first session and during the second session I was in the control group (that is without centrifugation). My third session was the one with 6 times 5 minutes.

How did you find the experience? Personally, what did you think of this study?

The bed rest was a little hard at the beginning. It is not a normal position for the body for such a long study, and it is difficult to depend on someone for whatever you want to do. But, anyway, it can be done with a little motivation! Also, the two sessions with the centrifuge were fairly intense because there were lots of tests, so time went fast. The session without centrifuge seemed a lot longer.
There are a lot of different protocols: stress tests (VO2 max), breathing tests, blood tests, cycling tests, protocols to test muscle strength, dexa….. and of course the centrifuge.
As I work in the scientific world, the way protocols operate, the expected results ….. all that was very interesting for me. I realised that space research is really at the cutting edge, and that certain tests and protocols are really targeted on this type of research, because I didn’t know them carried out in this way. From my point of view, but it is only my point of view (I don’t know how it went for the other volunteers), the centrifuge is efficient. I recovered differently according to whether I had participated or not in a centrifugation protocol. The tilt test that we do at the end of the bed-rest to get up gently and to evaluate our capacity to readapt at vascular level did not give the same results in both cases (with and without centrifugation).

What motivated you to take part in this study?

I work in the scientific world, and space is a field that interests me. This study was an excellent opportunity for me as a volunteer to be faced with clinical research, to be “on the other side” when compared to my daily routine. It was an excellent opportunity for me to see the work of scientists, to see the way they proceed in such a highly specialised and specific field. In addition, I had heard about the centrifuge and I really wanted to test it! Finally, this study was a good opportunity to test my limits, to see what I was capable of, but also to see what my body could cope with in a totally new situation.

And finally, what did you get out of this? Was it what you expected? Would you be willing to do it again?

The study went well, even though it was quite hard. There is the bed-rest of course, which is not experienced as something normal by the body, the food constraints, the fact that you cannot have any visits or that you cannot go out.… Neither was the centrifuge that simple. Each volunteer experienced this differently, but I personally was a little apprehensive, and I wanted to do things well, therefore not to move, to respect the protocol (not to move my head for example). All this requires an effort of concentration, and it is tiring.
But I am delighted to have done it. It is a truly enriching experience which teaches us our limits and the limits of our organism. It also enables us to recognise how lucky we are to be standing, to be able to walk. We really understand that man is made for standing on his legs and that the lying position is there to enable us to rest and recover, but it is not the usual position. Even though I am a sportsman, and a dynamic person, I am more than ever aware of the importance of moving, of being active in everyday life.
So, yes, I would do it again. Even though it was trying, it is an excellent experience, the team was great and took the time to answer my questions. Moreover, we were a very good group of volunteers, and we enjoyed getting together again at each session.     Bed rest position during the study