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Tackling Tumors With Space Station Research (NASA, International Space Station, 02/28/14)

Hello FlickrWorld! Hello FlickrWorld! I glanced at this image and thought it was a peacock feather, but it's another great story about space-related cancer research has appeared on the International Space Station Research site: www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/tackling... Happy and hopeful Friday to all!


Caption:Thyroid cancer cell line FTC-133 after four hours of exposure to simulated microgravity. Nuclei are stained blue, components of the cytoskeleton stained green and red. (Image credit: Team Daniela Grimm)


In space, things don’t always behave the way we expect them to. In the case of cancer, researchers have found that this is a good thing: some tumors seem to be much less aggressive in the microgravity environment of space compared to their behavior on Earth. This observation, reported in research published in February by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal, could help scientists understand the mechanism involved and develop drugs targeting tumors that don’t respond to current treatments. This work is the latest in a large body of evidence on how space exploration benefits those of us on Earth.


Research in the weightlessness of space offers unique insight into genetic and cellular processes that simply can’t be duplicated on Earth, even in simulated microgravity. “Microgravity can be approximated on Earth, but we know from the literature that simulated microgravity isn’t the same as the real thing,” says Daniela Gabriele Grimm, M.D., a researcher with the Department of Biomedicine, Pharmacology at Aarhus University in Aarhus, Denmark, and an author of the FASEB paper.


True weightlessness affects human cells in a number of ways. For one thing, cells grown in space arrange themselves into three-dimensional groupings, or aggregates, that more closely resemble what happens in the body. “Without gravitational pull, cells form three-dimensional aggregates, or spheroids,” Grimm explains. “Spheroids from cancer cells share many similarities with metastases, the cancer cells which spread throughout the body.” Determining the molecular mechanisms behind spheroid formation might therefore improve our understanding of how cancer spreads.


The FASEB paper resulted from an investigation in the Science in Microgravity Box (SIMBOX) facility aboard Shenzhou-8, launched in 2011. Cells grown in space and in simulated microgravity on the ground were analyzed for changes in gene expression and secretion profiles, with the results suggesting decreased expression of genes that indicate high malignancy in cancer cells.


The work was funded by a grant from the German Space Life Sciences program, managed by the German space agency, DLR, in collaboration with Chinese partners.


Grimm and her colleagues are following up with additional research, a Nanoracks Cellbox investigation called “Effect of microgravity on human thyroid carcinoma cells,” scheduled to launch in March on SpaceX's third commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. Another follow-up investigation, “Spheroids,” is planned in 2015. The overall goal is to find as many genes and proteins as possible that are affected by microgravity and to identify the cellular activities they influence. Researchers can then use this information to develop new strategies for cancer research.


In a recent paper published in Nature Reviews Cancer, Jeanne Becker, Ph.D., a cell biologist at Nano3D Biosciences in Houston and principal investigator for the Cellular Biotechnology Operations Support System (CBOSS) 1-Ovarian study, examined nearly 200 papers on cell biology research in microgravity during four decades. This body of work shows that not only does the architecture of cells change in microgravity, but the immune system also is suppressed. Other studies in addition to Grimm’s have shown microgravity-induced changes in gene expression. The key variable, Becker concluded, is gravity. And the only way to really mitigate gravity is to go into space.


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Uploaded on February 28, 2014