SpaceX employees were involved in a Covid-19 study in response to a request by Elon for volunteers. The study, still ongoing, was published in “the Nature Communication”, a peer reviewed scientific journal. It aims to find out whether people become immune to Covid-19 after contracting it, and what this immunity is contingent on.
Covid-19 Research on the Agenda
Elon Musk recently asked 4,000 SpaceX workers to participate in a coronavirus study aimed at gathering more information on how immunity is achieved in people already infected with the virus.
The study is still ongoing, but has indicated that a certain antibody threshold exists before a previously infected person can maintain proper immunity to the virus. This threshold is correlated to the severity of the symptoms experienced during the initial infection period; people who experienced mild symptoms might not develop immunity for a significant period of time.
Elon Musk had made several inaccurate comments and claims on the virus on his twitter last year. He has also previously been outspoken against the lockdown measures in the US, at one point even defying them to open one of his Tesla factories in California.
He is fully invested in advancing knowledge on virus immunity however, taking a personal interest in the results. He had the authors explain the science behind vaccines and immunity, as well as co-authoring the study.
Goal of the Study
With more than 112 million cases worldwide and a limited number of vaccines, one of the main goals of medical researchers is to find out how the jabs can be provided most effectively, including whether the previously infected can be passed over for other people in the initial vaccination stage. The aim of the research is to help with efforts to track and trace the virus, as well as to indicate who should get the vaccines first.
The process by which researchers are able to achieve this is analyzing the immune response to the virus in different people based on the quality and severity of the symptoms acquired. The antibodies produced during mild and severe cases differed in their “neutralization” ability, meaning their ability to limit the spread of the virus to other people. More severe cases trigger a stronger response, while milder cases cause a weaker one.
Analysis of more common coronaviruses that come about yearly and whether they trigger any form of immunity to covid-19 were also part of this study. Despite the seasonal infections of these more common viruses, the antibodies they trigger seem to have a very limited effect on covid-19 resistance.
The study was conducted on a majority male sample group, so gender discrepancies and variations in relation to immune responses were identified but not studies in depth.
Future Findings and Impact on Space Travel
Besides the humanitarian benefits of this research, SpaceX stands to gain cardinal medical
information and experience that can boost the success of future extraterrestrial exploration.
Anil Menon, the current medical director and ex Medical operations lead of Health Maintenance Systems at Nasa, worked with experts from the top medical institutions in the US on the study. The advantages of such a collaboration for space medicine can enable future rocket crew to conduct more dangerous missions with significantly lower risk.
In fact, according to a study on space medicine in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, “The most successful method of mitigating against the significant physiological risks imposed by spaceflight lies in adequate prevention through screening.”, a process which partly relies on our understanding of infectious disease control and management, as well as the identification of risk factors.