Jun 16, 2022

UofT Talks 2022 Recap: Interstellar Health - Medicine to New Heights

Current Students
By Michelle Li
Spaceship over earth

“What do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘space medicine’?” This thought-provoking question kicked off a night of insightful discussions on the intersection of space and medicine at the Institute of Medical Science's (IMS) annual UofT Talks event on June 2nd. The symposium began with a discussion on the effects of space on the body by a diverse panel of speakers—ranging from physicians and researchers to astronauts and bioethicists. Dr. Robert Thirsk, a former astronaut, recounted his personal experiences with weightlessness, the impacts that zero gravity had on his body, and the countermeasures (treadmills, weights) astronauts undergo prior to returning to Earth. He also spoke on the physiological and mental challenges astronauts often face. Dr. Hilding Neilson shared how Indigenous knowledge can provide valuable insights into the use of medicinal plants in space. It can also provide a holistic approach to helping astronauts manage conflict and the extreme isolation they face during long missions.

UofT Talks 2022

The panelists highlighted how advances in space science have benefited us greatly - from Velcro to miniaturized electronics and implantable medical devices. However, many key issues and unanswered questions remain as we continue to pursue advancements in the space sector. Drs. Kristi Ray, Joan Saary, and Konrad Szocik illustrated how despite interest in increasing diversity and inclusion within space exploration, many bioethical hurdles still need to be considered — how do we decide who goes to space? How do we ensure their safety, particularly those from vulnerable populations (e.g., those with disabilities)?

Whether discussing the rise in space travel, or the delivery of remote care to Mars and the Moon, a common theme throughout the night was the endless opportunities to be involved in space medicine. During the virtual expo, we learned about the work being done in the field of space medicine by eight amazing local organizations, and ways in which we can be involved. In fact, the University of Toronto will soon have a fellowship program in space medicine. Perhaps Dr. Shawna Pandya put it best when she said, “We are not running out of problems to solve any time soon, and I am eager to see where we head.”

We are not running out of problems to solve any time soon, and I am eager to see where we head.
Dr. Shawna Pandya

I had the chance to speak with the UofT Talks Leads, IMS students Shaghayegh Foroozan, Kyla Lee, Shamantha Lora and Sajeevan Sujanthan, who wanted this year’s theme to feel like a “breath of fresh air”. Organizing an event of this scale required a lot of hard work and dedication, but the Leads all shared the sentiment that the best part of organizing this event was having an incredible team of fellow students they could rely on. As current graduate students, the event served as an important reminder to them to step outside of their own research field and explore the incredible work being done by others.