Tiny portions of blood collected from Scott Kelly as he orbited the Earth in the International Space Station are being doled out among researchers to study the effect of space on cancer risk, immune function, and more, the Los Angeles Times reports. Those samples are being compared to ones taken from identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut, who remained on Earth.
The idea for this NASA Twins Study came from Scott Kelly himself, the LA Times notes, and the agency moved forward with it even though the proposition came after the time for research proposal solicitations had closed, as "identical twin astronauts do not come around often," the paper says.
The study includes 10 projects, and all 10 must share a vial of blood, leading researchers to adapt their protocols to handle smaller-than-usual amounts of sample. The LA Times notes that this frugality was because blood from Scott Kelly was already promised to other projects and the space agency has safety limits as to how much he can give. At the same time, drawing blood in microgravity can be tricky.
While the intricacies of being in space and small sample amounts brought up challenges, the LA Times say additional ones may be ahead as the researchers try to make sense of their data and what it means for astronaut health. "That's the fun part," Stanford University's Michael Snyder, who is pulling together a genomic, proteomic, transcriptomic, and metabolomic profile of the astronaut, tells the LA Times. "You can really see what the puzzle looks like."