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Women's Health in Space

Astronaut in space with galactic background and plant earth reflection in space suit.

Pioneering academic research studying women’s health in space

The USF Health Morsani College of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology is studying innovative research with Dr. Begum Mathyk leading discovery in reproductive studies and women's health in space. Dr. Mathyk’s mission is to boldly go where no OB-GYN has gone before – and in June 2024, she published two articles as the lead author in a special research collection by Nature Portfolio, Space Omics and Medical Atlas (SOMA) across orbits, one of the nation's leading research outlets, on how space affects human biology.

Dr. Mathyk has targeted specific research areas to gain a greater understanding of space travel on women, such as menopause, menstrual irregularities, and the possible effects on fertility or infertility, as well as gynecological surgery and imaging.

Dr. Begum Mathyk discusses how USF Health OB-GYN blazes a trail into the final frontier: studying women’s health in space.

Why women’s health matters in space

As the number of female astronauts increases it is essential to understand and address their unique health needs and sex differences, to ensure the well-being of the crew for longer missions beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Space presents its own distinct risk factors and challenges for humans as outlined by the NASA acronym RIDGE; Radiation, Isolation and confinement, Distance from Earth, Gravity fields, and hostile/closed Environments. Each factor could impact women’s health in various ways. The female reproductive life cycle is dynamic and changes from birth through menopause and postmenopause with each stage presenting varying characteristics. Baseline risk factors are also individual and may also be important for space travel. Therefore, for future long-term missions beyond LEO, there are multiple aspects and research questions needed to be addressed surrounding women’s health in space.

Dr. Begum Mathyk in a medical white coat
“My interest is space biology and doing my best to advocate for women’s health on Earth and beyond."- Dr. Begum Mathyk

Dr. Mathyk completed the NASA Aerospace Medicine Clerkship at Johnson Space Center in 2022, followed by another training program, the NASA Spaceflight Technology, Applications, and Research (STAR) Program. She is an active member of NASA GeneLab’s analysis working groups and Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA). Dr. Mathyk is currently the chair of the GeneLab FemaleRepro analysis working group. She published, presented and was an invited speaker for several talks at various international conferences and institutions due to her unique field of female reproductive health in space.

Dr. Mathyk is interested in translational science projects on reproductive endocrinology, gynecologic imaging and surgery in space.

Dr. Mathyk’s Space Research Highlights

    • Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin SPACEMED Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree on Physiology and Medicine of Humans in Space and Extreme Environments - Invited lecture
    • Yale Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Academics - Invited speaker
    • Society for Reproductive Investigation (SRI) Conference - Poster presentation
      • Understanding the interplay of preeclampsia and spaceflight
    • USF Research Day - Poster presentation
    • Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA) meeting, Women’s Health Considerations for Commercial Spaceflight Medical Screening: A Scoping Review.
    • NASA GeneLab AWG Symposium
      • Female Reproductive Health in Space
    • Nature Portfolio package
      • Spaceflight induces changes in gene expression profiles linked to insulin and estrogen
      • Understanding how space travel affects the female reproductive system to the Moon and beyond
      • Single-cell multi-ome and immune profiles of the Inspiration4 crew reveal conserved, cell-type, and sex-specific responses to spaceflight (co-author, analysis of sex differences in immune cells)
    • Women’s Aerospace Network Award in Medicine and Health category. Acknowledges significant strides in astronaut health research, enhancing space exploration by ensuring astronaut safety through medical discoveries.
    • NASA GeneLab FemaleRepro AWG Chair
    • Book chapter; Spaceflight implications for precision medicine in the field of Obstetrics and Gynecology and its subspecialties. Precision Medicine for Long and Safe Permanence of Humans in Space, Elsevier
    • Space Health Meet an Expert, University of Melbourne - Invited lecture
    • NASA GeneLab AWG Symposium - Presenter
    • American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR) Conference - Oral and poster presentations, ASGSR Art Award
      • Mitochondria and hormone-linked gene alterations in the mammary gland during spaceflight
      • Spaceflight induces changes in gene expression profiles linked to insulin and estrogen
      • ASGSR Art Award: 1st place in technical and artistic categories. ‘Beyond Boundaries: Women’s Reproductive Odyssey’
    • Turkish Society of Reproductive Medicine (TSRM) Conference - Invited speaker
    • Pacific Coast Reproductive Society (PCRS) - Poster presentation
    • NIH Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Academics - Invited speaker
    • American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) Conference - Oral presentation

NASA Spotlight


Spaceflight induces changes in gene expression profiles linked to insulin and estrogen

We have entered an era in which living and working in space is a reality. Studies show that spaceflight has health risks such as central nervous system and cardiovascular dysfunction, cancer risk, immune dysregulation, muscle and bone loss, and fatty liver. At the molecular level, risks include oxidative stress, DNA damage, cosmic radiation exposure, mitochondrial dysfunction, microbiome shift, and epigenetic alterations

Spaceflight induces changes

Understanding how space travel affects the female reproductive system

The new NASA decadal survey marks a significant milestone in shaping the future of space research. It highlights the critical importance of understanding female biology in the next decade of NASA’s scientific endeavors. The survey underscores the need for dedicated fundamental and applied research efforts to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of women during extended space missions by highlighting the physiologic complexities that female astronauts may face in space.

Space travel and the female reproductive system