They all speak of having had a wonderfully enriching experience both in scientific and human terms. A press conference attended by those in charge of the study and volunteers is to be held on 2 June. The volunteers in question are twelve women, drawn from seven European countries. Since March they have been confined to bed at the MEDES (French Institute of Space Medicine and Physiology) space clinic in Toulouse, in what is the longest female bedrest experiment ever conducted within the European Community.
For these two months, they have been confined to bed, lying at a 6 angle, their feet raised slightly above their heads. In such a position it is possible to induce in the body phenomena similar to those encountered by astronauts when subjected to weightlessness for long periods, such as a loss of muscle mass and capacity for effort followed by a reduction in bone mass. A better understanding of the mechanisms governing this adaptation of the body to weightless conditions will be invaluable when it comes to developing counter measures for astronauts. It will also have applications on Earth, for example in the treatment of those in need of long-term hospitalisation, and more generally, of the effects of physical inactivity on health.
Experiments of this type have already been carried out, notably in two three-month sessions involving male volunteers in 2001 and 2002. However, the WISE study is the first long-duration bedrest programme to be conducted in Europe using female subjects.
Some wanted a challenge, others to do their bit
From the time preparations get under way for the bedrest phase to the rehabilitation phase once they are back on their feet, the twelve volunteers will have spent three months