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Background story: In near future (max 10 years from now) mega-rich person suffers yet unknown disease. He obviously employs every doctor possible and spends loads from his fortune on researching, what is wrong with them.

The scientists come up with some time-delaying solution: Such disease has little or almost no progress, if a patient is in microgravity (= very close to zero gravity). Our hero has now to decide. To die with 90% probability in one year, or, buy a ticket to ISS and stay here for some time and hope for the best. But he could be stuck there forever...

The question: Is such disease plausible? And ultimately, even if its on verge on implausibility, what symptoms should such disease have? How to make it more plausible?

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    $\begingroup$ My immediate thought is some kind of degenerative bone disease; micro-gravity probably wouldn't slow it per se, but the reduced stress on his bones likely improves his own survivability... $\endgroup$ – Kromey Dec 19 '14 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Kromey Want to make that an answer? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Dec 19 '14 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 Not really; besides the fact that that's all I can say on that, one of the issues with microgravity is bone loss, which is the opposite thing you want if you have a degenerative bone disease! $\endgroup$ – Kromey Dec 19 '14 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ Severe coronary problems would be mitigated by zero-g to some extent, as the heart no longer needs to fight gravity to pump blood. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Dec 19 '14 at 22:54
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    $\begingroup$ Heinlein's classic story Waldo is about a man who uses zero-G to mitigate the muscle weakness of myasthenia gravis. He also invents mechanical hands, which is why these devices are called Waldoes. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Dec 19 '14 at 22:57
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Such a disease is definitely plausible. Human physiology is heavily influenced by gravity in many ways, none of which we fully understand. It's entirely reasonable to propose that microgravity could prevent the progression of a disease.

As an example, Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva is a rare, inherited condition of excessive, improper bone growth. Essentially, whenever the body is wounded, bone is grown at the wound instead of normal tissue. The result is that the patient slowly turns to bone. Surgical procedures to remove the bone only make things worse as the body heals the incisions with more bone growth. There is no known treatment or cure. Now, bone loss is a major issue for astronauts spending prolonged periods of time in space. Part of the problem is likely the reduced requirement for the muscles and bones to hold the weight of the body, but some researchers think there may be molecular mechanisms governing bone growth that are sensitive to the gravity and don't work in space. Potentially a microgravity environment could inhibit further bone growth. There are many things we don't know about microgravity's effects on our body, so I think it is definitely possible that Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva could be helped by a microgravity environment.

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    $\begingroup$ A similar thought that doesn't necessarily have any scientific basis, but seems plausible: if the same growth factors for bone affect bone tumors, a metastasized bone tumor might be made to stop growing by putting someone in zero-g. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Dec 19 '14 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ Wow. That Wikipedia page is one of the most terrifying things I have ever read. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Dec 19 '14 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ Scary disease but IMHO there is NO indication what zero-G may have any effects. Only that learning more about the disease might (or might not) help prevent bone loss by astronauts in zero-G. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. Dec 19 '14 at 22:32
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The disease needn't be a virus -- it could be a larger parasite organism attacking the host. Once you've established that the person is under attack from a parasite, all you need is to invent a creature that dies in zero gravity.

For example, human immune cells can't mature in zero gravity. A creature whose cells needed to be regrown more frequently than ours might not be able to survive long in such an environment.

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Malignant obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

from A case report of malignant obesity hypoventilation syndrome: A weighty problem in our ICUs

CASE PRESENTATION: 35 year old African American gentleman with a body mass index (BMI) of 115 kg/m2 presented to the hospital with respiratory distress. On admission he was noted to have multi-organ dysfunction including respiratory failure, renal failure, cardiac and liver abnormalities. His hospital course was remarkable for recurrent cardiac arrest following extubation, complicated tracheostomy, and progressive organ failure despite medical therapy. After a 30 day hospitalization, patient and family decided on terminal extubation owing to worsening medical condition and lack of therapeutic and disposition options. DISCUSSION: The super obese present a number of challenges when admitted to the ICU. Patients with respiratory distress are frequently misdiagnosed and treated for asthma and COPD when obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS) is more consistent with the clinical picture. OHS in the superobese is often accompanied by multi-system organ dysfunction, a condition with high morbidity and mortality, with limited treatment options.

From the article; this man was 182 cm, 383 kg (844 lbs). The weight of the body crushes the lungs and makes it more and more difficult to breathe. It is much the same situation as marine mammals which are on land and do not have the water to support them.

In zero-G this mega-rich person would not have to move the weight of his body while breathing. He would probably feel great.

While writing this I was thinking of Iz who died of complications of obesity. I bet the water made it easier for him. Too bad he did not have a space station. Bruddah Iz

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To get use of such low gravity, person with that rare disease needs to survive

  • the stress of astronaut training (which might be a challenge - presumably rich person would not bother if he was in good enough shape)
  • the high-G stress of launch.

Contradiction in requirements.

Wikipedia says that Shuttle had 3G acceleration, which is LESS than high-G roller-coaster. So I guess it should be safe enough (survivable) to launch him up using shuttle, with some risk.

NASA article about acceleration says: "The human body can tolerate violent accelerations for short periods, including the the prolonged high-g acceleration necessary to reach Earth orbit." ..."Heavy acceleration is a speeded-up aging process. Tissues break down, capillaries break down and the heart has to do many times its proper work."

So answer is like always it depends - in big part on what kind of (undefined) launch vehicle you plan to use. The gentler the better. Now you have framework to ask for more questions to make your story more plausible.

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    $\begingroup$ Boom. Right into feels. Completely forgot that I have to get him up somehow... $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Dec 19 '14 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ Is there any way then for him to survive the launch, though? Some sort of special suit perhaps to mitigate the launch stresses? Put him in jelly! $\endgroup$ – Crabgor Dec 19 '14 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ If the disease hasn't progressed enough yet that launch stresses would be fatal, but they know it will, there's no problem. $\endgroup$ – Kromey Dec 19 '14 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ The patient may also be less of 'astronaut' and more of 'payload.' I'm told those need less training. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Dec 19 '14 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ The OP never mentions macrogravity. Just because a disease is relieved by microgravity, that doesn't mean it's exacerbated by macrogravity. $\endgroup$ – Williham Totland Dec 19 '14 at 22:11

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