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Nothing lazy about a bed rest study

Image taken from CNN and attributed to DLR (

Assiduous readers of this blog (if there are any!)(I don't even think my mother qualifies) will remember our participating in the first ever Canadian bed rest study co-sponsored by the Canadian Space Agency and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

Held at the McGill University Health Center, under the leadership of our fearless (and tireless) leader Dr. José Morais (and his amazing team, notably Guy Hajj and Vita Sonjak), the study has finally gone underway in August 2021.

We had a recent update on the recruitment and first cohort of individuals that participated in this study. Imagine being prodded and probed for a full week before laying down in a bed, with your head tilted down 6 degrees, for two weeks, with strict instructions not to change this position. You will do everything lying down: eating, working, sleeping... everything. Did I mention that there are sensors to ensure that your head does not rise up, sensors connected by pager to one of the not-so-friendly-after-two-weeks research professionals (Guy, Vita and colleagues) that are literally sleeping at the hospital to monitor the whole thing ?

Why oh why would someone do this, you say. Well, altruism counts for a lot - altruism to generate data and understand better the impact of inactivity on the human body and brain. The knowledge gained will be useful for a host of domains, the flashiest being long-duration space travel, the more mundane but on the whole vital one being taking care of anyone, especially seniors, that are faced with restrictions leading to inactivity or that live a sedentary lifestyle (often referred to as the "new smoking" due to its deleterious effect on general health). I wonder if I can think of an example of a population on strict lockdown with no place to go, confined to their rooms for months at a time. Nah, nothing comes to mind.

Irony aside, you'll understand that this study could not come at a better time - reality caught up with us in a big way in the last few months/years. I should also mention that the study is not just about inactivity; half of the volunteers (yes, they volunteer for this) will be performing physical fitness exercises (e.g. cardio, resistive weights and the like) to try to counteract the detrimental effect of bed rest. All while being head-down, of course.

So far, five individuals have completed the first cohort, with no major problem related to the study (an unrelated medical issue arose for a participant who feels fine now, thanks for asking). We have for our part collected brain MR images before and after the bed rest, and have started analyzing the data. The second cohort is rolling in, and so we should be getting new data pretty soon. On the whole we aim to have 24 participants, hopefully all completing the study in the next 9 months or so.

We'll be sure to keep you abreast of our findings as the study progresses. Until then, stay active!


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