Image: The Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility in Science Commons.

Biochemistry student Julia Stroud is spending her summer vacation conducting research that she considers is of great importance in the scientific community. Working with Dr. Gerlinde Metz and Tony Montina in the Metz/Montina Lab, Julia is researching the metabolic effects that long-duration space travel has on the blood serum of male and female NASA astronauts. Long-duration space travel ranges between 4 to 6 months.

Julia’s research utilizes a proton nuclear magnetic resonance (1H-NMR) spectroscopy-based metabolomics approach, which provides a more in-depth understanding of the metabolic effects of long-duration space travel. Previous analyses using univariate, multivariate, and machine learning methods identified metabolites and pathways that provided insight into these effects as well as some sex differences in how long-duration space travel affects the human body. The metabolomics approach considers how the dynamic state of the human body affects these differences, and it allows for the identification and quantification of the metabolic outputs linked to upstream regulation by stress.

Studying space flight provides Julia with a unique opportunity to investigate longitudinal metabolic changes linked to physiological and psychological stress, and she notes that her study is the first to address this topic. Julia has been involved in this research since Fall 2020, starting her work through independent study courses. This summer, with the support of an Alberta Innovates Summer Research Studentship, Julia will be completing her data analysis, interpreting the results within the context of the study, and writing an academic paper.

Julia says that the use of emergent technology and approaches in her work is what attracted her to the research.

[I]t is becoming more apparent that NMR spectroscopy can prove quite fruitful for the future of diagnostic technologies, personalized medicine, the broader healthcare community, as well as many other important non-healthcare related applications such as water quality testing; hence, contributing to this study may contribute to the heightened recognition of NMR as a useful tool for multiple fields.
I think that the topic of this study is of paramount importance with the advent of the discourse surrounding the future human colonization of other planets. It is important that the effects of space travel on humans, especially long-duration, are studied thoroughly before such events come to fruition. Thus, the study itself and the applications of it, to me, are of high importance to the greater scientific research community and is, therefore, a study that I am so grateful to have been able to participate in.

Working in the Metz/Montina Lab, Julia has been able to strengthen her skills as a science student, gaining experience in research communication and presentation, writing lab reports and manuscripts, as well as building her critical thinking skills to all aspects of her degree. Julia says she has enjoyed the sense of community she has experienced doing research at the University of Lethbridge.

The individuals that I have had the pleasure of working under and alongside are, without fail, encouraging, accessible, supportive, and most of all, inspiring. The UofL offers a unique opportunity, due to its smaller population, to form relationships with the people you work with –– facilitating the research process and making the research process so much more rewarding.