News

NASA Concurs with Independent Review of Bion 11 Mission

NASA Headquarters, April 22, 1997 RELEASE: 97-77

     NASA is suspending its participation in primate research on 
the Bion 12 mission, part of an international project to study the 
physiological effects of low gravity and space radiation.  NASA's 
decision is based on the recommendations of an independent review 
board requested by the Agency to look into the post-flight death 
of a rhesus monkey following the successful flight and landing of 
the Bion 11 satellite.

     The panel found that there was an unexpected mortality risk 
associated with anesthesia for surgical procedures (biopsy of bone 
and muscle) on the day following return from space.  NASA has 
determined that this risk is unacceptable and is therefore 
discontinuing its participation in the primate experiments on Bion 12.

     The independent review was led by Dr. Ronald Merrell, 
chairman, Department of Surgery, Yale University, New Haven, CT.  
Dr. Merrell closely consulted with the Russian Bioethics 
Commission of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which conducted the 
Russian inquiry.

     Based on the difficulty encountered with post-flight 
anesthesia on the Bion 11 mission, the research protocols 
originally developed for the Bion 12 mission cannot be conducted 
without an unacceptable risk to the primates.  NASA therefore 
plans to:

- incorporate lessons learned from this mission into ongoing 
scientific research, reviews and medical considerations for 
space flight;

- in concert with the biomedical community, conduct research with 
the appropriate models to investigate medical care in relation 
to space physiology;
 
- work with the biomedical research community to develop new 
technologies for collecting critical data needed to continue 
this important research.

     The Bion program is a cooperative space venture among the 
U.S., Russian and French space agencies for conducting biomedical 
research using Russian-owned rhesus monkeys.  The 14-day Bion 11 
mission, carrying two rhesus monkeys as well as other life science 
and microgravity experiments, began on Dec. 24, 1996, with its 
launch from Russia's Plesetsk launch site.  The flight was 
successfully completed when the spacecraft landed in Kazakhstan on 
Jan. 7, 1997.

     Experiments flown on the Bion missions encompass a broad 
range of important investigations that expand our understanding of 
a variety of fundamental and applied life sciences questions.

     In space, as on the ground, biomedical research on animals 
plays a vital role in expanding NASA's capacity to understand and 
treat medical problems.  NASA is deeply concerned with the welfare 
of its animals and is fully committed to conducting its animal 
research programs in conformance with the highest ethical 
standards.  The Bion experiments were thoroughly reviewed four 
times by NASA and outside panels to ensure that they met ethical 
standards, and that they pursued worthwhile and important 
scientific objectives that could not be achieved without the use 
of animals.

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