Saint Michael’s faculty pair funded for stress-in-space study

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Saint Michael’s faculty pair funded for stress-in-space study

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 1:15pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Saint Michael’s College faculty collaborators Melissa VanderKaay Tomasulo, PhD of neuroscience/psychology and Dagan Loisel, PhD of biology learned this week that a “small-scale research grant” of $25,000 through the Vermont Space Grant Consortium has been funded in full. The goal of the study is to identify stress-relieving countermeasures that astronauts could use during long-duration space missions to reduce stress and its ability to cause immune dysregulation, which refers to negative changes in the body's normal ability to fight off infections and disease.

“When humans experience stress, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released to help mobilize the body to deal with the stressor at hand.  A consequence of this, particularly if the stressor is ongoing, can be changes to the immune system,” Professor Tomasulo said. “In particular, viruses that are typically dormant can reactivate and replicate. During space flight, astronauts experience stressors such as being away from loved ones, isolation, changes in their sleep cycle, confinement, and exposure to microgravity, which can activate stress hormones believed to contribute to immune system dysregulation.  It is therefore necessary to investigate whether stress-relieving activities (e.g. guided meditation delivered through virtual navigation and other online activities) can alter the dynamics of this viral reactivation.”

They will be collaborating with Dr. Brian Crucian, lead scientist for NASA’s Immunology/Virology Laboratory and Dr. Satish Mehta, lead virologist, both with NASA’s Human Health and Countermeasures Element within the Human Research Program (HRP) Immunology/Virology Laboratory at Johnson Space Center. NASA's HRP/HHC has co-funded a parallel proposal by the NASA Scientists to collaborate on the study selected by the Vermont Space Grant Consortium, so the total award is for $50,000.

This award will “provide opportunities for Saint Michael’s students to get hands-on research experience studying human health,” said Professor Loisel. “It is not common for a small, liberal arts and sciences college to have this opportunity.” The project came about because of collaborative work Tomasulo and Loisel did on the new Saint Michael’s Introduction to Health Sciences course this past fall. While teaching a unit on the biological effects of stress on the body, they presented a NASA study by Dr. Crucian, which investigated the effects of stress during space flight on the immune system, and then got to thinking about ways to study the stress-immunity link on campus. “This is a demonstration of interdisciplinary research at its finest,” said Tomasulo.

Angela Irvine, the College’s Director of Advancement Programs, said, “This is a significant grant well beyond the dollars. These collaborations are one of the most effective ways for faculty at Saint Michael’s to build their research program and make important connections that will lead to larger awards in the future. The collaborative model is true for all disciplines. I hope that we can continue to support and encourage faculty across the College to find opportunities to support their scholarship and engage students in these experiences. We all benefit from the success of these awards."

"While latent viruses are very different biologically and clinically compared to SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic, engaging in stress-relieving activities, such as meditation, during this present time of social isolation and stress can certainly be beneficial for one’s mental and physical health. “Stress can negatively impact immune function, so engaging in activities that reduce stress can reduce those negative effects. This helps to keep the body’s immune defenses running effectively and efficiently against all kinds of viruses and pathogens,” Loisel said.

The Vermont Space Grant Consortium (VTSGC) is an organization consisting of academic institutions, private industry, and public entities. Funded by a grant from NASA's National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, key goals of the VTSGC are: to build aerospace-related research infrastructure within the state; to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

About Saint Michael’s College

Saint Michael’s College, founded in the great Catholic intellectual tradition, which also recognizes the principles of social justice and compassion, is a selective, fully residential Catholic college in Vermont’s beautiful Green Mountains. Our closely connected community delivers internationally-respected liberal arts and graduate education near Burlington, one of the country’s best college towns. To prepare for fulfilling careers and meaningful lives, young adults here grow intellectually, socially, and morally, learning to be responsible for themselves, each other and their world.

Source: COLCHESTER, VT -- Saint Michael’s College 5.19.2020