Operating in orbit
As an orthopedic oncologist who studies bone that has been damaged by cancer, Robert “Bobby” Satcher ’86, PhD ’93, HST MD ’94 is also interested in the effects of microgravity on the human body. He got the chance to experience those effects firsthand when he became the first orthopedic surgeon to venture into space in November 2009.
Satcher was one of six astronauts who spent 11 days aboard the recently retired shuttle Atlantis as part of NASA’s STS-129 Space Shuttle mission to deliver 14 tons of spare parts to the International Space Station (ISS). During the mission, he completed two spacewalks to attach hardware to the exterior of the ISS that will help keep the research facility running until 2015.
If anyone could handle the physical and mental stress of that task, it would be Satcher, according to Joseph R. Madsen, an associate professor of neurosurgery at Harvard Medical School and president of the HST Alumni Association. “Dr. Satcher demonstrates the core idea of the HST program — combining a deep understanding of human biology with a deep understanding of engineering and science to accomplish things that can hardly be imagined,” he said.
Prior to the launch of STS-129, Satcher underwent 18 months of rigorous mission training that included land- and water-survival classes and learning about the technical aspects of the space shuttle and orbital mechanics.
Exposing collagen's double life
Collagen, a type of connective tissue that makes up about 30 percent of the human body, plays many roles. The structural protein is an important component of muscle, skin, bones and cartilage, and forms scar tissue when injuries heal.
However, it’s one of collagen’s lesser-known functions that piqued the interest of MIT associate professor Collin Stultz, a cardiologist and biomedical engineer, several years ago. When cholesterol builds up in the arteries, giving rise to plaques, collagen forms a protective layer that envelops the...