Millennium Post

Space research to help humans fight illnesses

Space travel may help scientists strengthen our bodies’ ability to fight threats to our health, according to a new study.

New research on leukocytes - human defence cells - seeks to understand how these tiny warriors mount their defence, researchers said.

Astronauts’ immune systems don’t work as well in micro-gravity as on Earth. Knowing why is key to protecting astronauts’ health and could lead to new treatments on Earth for those with impaired immune systems, NASA said. TripleLux-B launches to the International Space Station in December 2014 on SpaceX’s fifth commercial resupply mission. In February 2015, TripleLux-A will follow.Both investigations will examine cellular changes in the immune system and separate out the specific effects of micro-gravity from other spaceflight factors like radiation.

In human immune systems, large white blood cells called leukocytes are the first line of defence against infection.

These cells engulf foreign bodies and produce a burst of reactive oxygen that helps destroy invaders.
TripleLux-A will test leukocytes in rats on the space station. TripleLux-B will explore how micro-gravity causes changes in cellular-level genetic mechanisms, including DNA repair. It will compare micro-gravity-induced changes in rat leukocytes with similar immune system cells in blue mussels.

These mussel and rat cells are considered model organisms; they have characteristics making them easy to maintain, reproduce and study in a laboratory.

The mussels, for example, generate large numbers of immune system cells that are easy to collect without harming the animal. “Our goal with TripleLux-B is to find out whether the cells of the immune system of the mussel, which is older in an evolutionary sense, are affected in the same way as those in the immune system of an astronaut - or, in this case, a rat,” said Principal Investigator Peter-Diedrich Hansen.


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