Exposure to microgravity has been shown to weaken astronauts’ immune systems and increase the activity if harmful microorganisms. The news from space medicine is not all bad, however. New research suggests that thyroid cancer cells enter a less aggressive state under the influence of microgravity. By understanding the genetic and cellular changes that occur in space, scientists may be able to develop new cancer treatments for use on Earth.

Differential Gene Expression Profile and Altered Cytokine Secretion of Thyroid Cancer Cells in Space” was published in the February issue of The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Daniela Gabriele Grimm, MD, from the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University in Denmark, said, “Research in space or under simulated microgravity using ground-based facilities helps us in many ways to understand the complex processes of life and this study is the first step toward the understanding of the mechanisms of cancer growth inhibition in microgravity. Ultimately, we hope to find new cellular targets, leading to the development of new anti-cancer drugs which might help to treat those tumors that prove to be non-responsive to the currently employed agents.”

Grimm and colleagues from Denmark and Germany used the Science in Microgravity Box facility aboard the Chinese Shenzhou-8, which was launched on October 31, 2011. Cell feeding was performed automatically on day 5 of the mission and automated cell fixation was conducted on day 10. An onboard centrifuge was used for inflight control cultures.

On the ground, additional cells were tested using a random-positioning machine, which aims to simulate microgravity by rotating a sample around two axes.

Cells were studied for gene expression and secretion profiles, using modern molecular biological techniques such as whole genome microarrays and multi-analyte profiling. Results suggest that the expression of genes that indicate high malignancy were down-regulated in microgravity.

“We are just at the beginning of a new field of medicine that studies the effects of microgravity on cell and molecular pathology,” said Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal. “Space flight affects our bodies, both for good and bad. We’ve known that microgravity can cause some microorganisms to become more virulent and that prolonged microgravity has negative effects on the human body. Now, we learn that it’s not all bad news. What we learn from cells in space should help us understand and treat malignant tumors on the ground.”

Written by Astro1 on January 30th, 2014 , Space Medicine and Safety

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