NASA’s Human Research Program conducted the study, analyzing the changes that occurred to Scott while in orbit, while comparing his genetics, immune system, and cognitive abilities to his Earth bound sibling. The Twin Study gathered great insight into the need for personalized medicine during long duration deep space missions, along with setting a foundation for future astronaut studies as our civilization’s space programs accelerate into the stars.
Key findings included changes to gene expression, immune system response, and telomere dynamics. Telomeres, contained in white blood cells, indicate biomarkers of aging, and are an important element of cellular genomic stability. Researchers observed Scott Kelly’s telomeres stretching longer in space, though returning to normal length after a period of six months once returning to Earth. Meanwhile, Mark Kelly’s telomeres remained unchanged. This particular finding calls for additional studies for future and longer missions, with the aim of demonstrating repeat results.
During the study, researchers paid additional attention to Scott’s immune system, which responded well when administered a flu vaccine while in orbit that demonstrated the same success as when received on Earth. Researchers also noted broken chromosomes rearranging in chromosomal inversions and changes in cognitive functions. Most of these results remain consistent with previous studies and ongoing research.
Gene integrity and a strong, properly functioning immune system are some of the most important aspects to consider for long term deep space missions.