January 30, 2014
Thyroid Cancer Cells Are Less Aggressive In Space
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
In the future, individuals suffering from thyroid cancer may be taking a trip outside of Earth’s atmosphere as a form of treatment. Researchers writing in the FASEB Journal say that thyroid cancer cells are less aggressive in space than on Earth. The team said that aggressive earth-bound cells experience a redifferentiation when journeying to microgravity, placing them in a less aggressive state. Scientists believe that this finding could help develop treatments in the future that could accomplish the same thing on earth.
"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," said Daniela Gabriele Grimm, MD, a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Biomedicine and Pharmacology at Aarhus University in Denmark.
The team used the Science in Microgravty Box (SIMBOX) experimental facility aboard China’s Shenzhou-8 spacecraft. Cell feeding was automatically performed on China’s unmanned space flight on day five, and automated cell fixation was conducted on day 10. Shenzhou-8 landed and the experimental samples were analyzed on November 17, 2011, just a little over two weeks after launch.
Researchers also analyzed additional cells by using a random positioning machine, which helps to simulate microgravity conditions on the ground by rotating a sample around two axes operated in a random real direction mode. They assessed both cell types with respect to their gene expression and secretion profiles by using modern molecular biology techniques.
The findings showed that the expression of genes related to high malignancy in cancer cells may be down-regulated under altered gravitational conditions.
"We are just at the beginning of a new field of medicine that studies the effects of microgravity on cell and molecular pathology. Space flight affects our bodies, both for good and bad," said Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor in Chief of the FASEB Journal. “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."
This study shows how space exploration may be able to offer up some tangible benefits for people on Earth. Researchers also hope these findings will further the development of new anti-cancer drugs.
"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,” Gabriele said.