Space Medicine



Space and telemedicine – Cardiothoracic surgeon launches research into space


When an unmanned supply mission launched into space on April 18, bound for the International Space 1) ___, it meant something extraordinary to Dr. Peter Lee, a cardiothoracic surgeon at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. That’s because his research experiment is on board. Lee has been fascinated by space exploration since he was a child. Now, that fascination has evolved into a passion for space medicine and learning about the effects of space travel on the heart. “It’s more than the joy ride of traveling in space. I don’t have to do that. What excites me is being a part of the science, the learning and the research,“ Lee said.


In a small box, on board the private rocket, Lee sent approximately 200 fruit flies into space, to be exposed to the effects of microgravity and space radiation for 30 days while docked with the International Space Station. It is one of only eight research studies on this mission sponsored by Space Florida, an aerospace economic development agency that supports space exploration. When the flies return, Lee and his collaborators will examine their hearts, looking for cardiovascular changes and changes in gene expression. “About three-fourths of known human disease genes can be matched in the genome of 2) ___ flies,“ Lee said. “I hope the analysis will help us learn what happens to the hearts of astronauts and how to prevent cardiovascular problems in the future. Eventually, our findings could someday help astronauts explore or even live in deep space.“


Lee’s research into space medicine has spanned decades and he has been involved in other missions. One of Lee’s experiments flew with John Glenn when he made his return to space in 1998 at the age of 77. While working at Brown, Harvard, and Stanford Universities, Lee led several student groups that researched ways to perform CPR in 3) ___ gravity, practiced airway intubations, and tested various medical techniques and equipment to see if they can be used for space travel. Lee says he’s looking forward to leading similar student groups at Ohio State.




NASA medical monitoring


Microgravity accelerates biological aging


As nations strive to put humans farther into space for longer periods of time, the real loser in this new space race could be the 4) ___ themselves. That’s because experiments conducted on the International Space Station involving cells that line the inner surfaces of blood vessels (endothelial cells) show that microgravity accelerates cardiovascular disease and the biological aging of these cells. These findings are presented in a research report published in the The FASEB Journal. “Understanding the cellular and molecular events of senescence might help in finding preventive measures that are useful to improve the quality of life of millions of people,“ said Silvia Bradamante, a researcher involved in the work from the CNR-ISTM, Institute of Molecular Science and Technologies in Milan, Italy. “Our study further supports the role of oxidative 5) ___ in accelerating aging and disease.“


In this report, Bradamante and colleagues examined endothelial cells in real microgravity aboard the International Space Station and conducted deep gene expression and protein analysis on the cells. They compared space-flown endothelial cells to endothelial cells cultured under normal gravity, looking for differences in gene expression and/or in the profile of secreted proteins. Space-flown cells differentially expressed more than 1,000 genes and secreted high amounts of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Ultimately, this induced significant oxidative stress, causing 6) ___ among endothelial cells, which in turn, led to atherosclerosis and cell senescence (biological aging). “As we plan to send people deeper into space than ever before, and for longer flights, we’ve got to make sure that they remain in best health possible,“ said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “We’ve evolved to rely on gravity to regulate our biology, and without it, our tissues become confused. Worst of all: they age faster!“


Researcher to grow human cells in space to test treatment for stroke


Abba Zubair, M.D., Ph.D, believes that cells grown in the International Space Station (ISS) could help patients recover from a stroke, and that it may even be possible to generate human tissues and organs in space. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), a nonprofit organization that promotes research aboard the ISS, has awarded Dr. Zubair a $300,000 grant to send human stem cells into space to see if they grow more rapidly than stem cells grown on 7) ___. Dr. Zubair, medical and scientific director of the Cell Therapy Laboratory at Mayo Clinic in Florida, says the experiment will be the first one Mayo Clinic has conducted in space and the first to use these human stem cells, which are found in bone 8) ___. “On Earth, we face many challenges in trying to grow enough stem cells to treat patients,“ he says. “It now takes a month to generate enough cells for a few patients. A clinical-grade laboratory in space could provide the answer we all have been seeking for regenerative medicine.“ He specifically wants to expand the population of stem cells that will induce regeneration of neurons and blood vessels in patients who have suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, the kind of stroke which is caused by blood 9) ___. Dr. Zubair already grows such cells in his Mayo Clinic laboratory using a large tissue culture and several incubators — but only at a snail’s pace.


Experiments on Earth using microgravity have shown that stem cells — the master cells that produce all organ and tissue cell types — will grow faster, compared to conventionally grown cells. “If you have a ready supply of these cells, you can treat almost any condition, and can theoretically regenerate entire organs using a scaffold,“ Dr. Zubair says. “Additionally, they don’t need to come from individual patients — anyone can use them without rejection.“ Dr. Zubair is working with engineers at the University of Colorado who are building the specialized cell bioreactor that will be taken to the ISS within a year for the experiment. “I don’t really think growing cells in space for clinical use on Earth is science fiction,“ he says. “Commercial flights to the ISS will start soon, and the cost of traveling there is coming down. We just need to show what can be achieved in space, and this award from CASIS helps us do that.“


Space research may lead to new cancer treatments


Exposure to microgravity has been shown to weaken astronauts’ immune systems and increase the activity of 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 10) ___. By understanding the genetic and cellular changes that occur in space, scientists may be able to develop new cancer treatments for use on Earth. 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 11) ___ 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 12) ___ 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.“


1) Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center; “Cardiothoracic surgeon launches research into space;“

2) Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology; S. Versari, G. Longinotti, L. Barenghi, J. A. M. Maier, S. Bradamante. The challenging environment on board the International Space Station affects endothelial cell function by triggering oxidative stress through thioredoxin interacting protein overexpression: the ESA-SPHINX experiment. The FASEB Journal, 2013; 27 (11): 4466 DOI: 10.1096/fj.13-229195

3) Mayo Clinic. “Researcher to grow human cells in space to test treatment for stroke;“

4) “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;




ANSWERS: 1) Station; 2) fruit; 3) zero; 4) astronauts; 5) stress; 6) inflammation; 7) Earth; 8) marrow; 9) clot; 10) microgravity; 11) drugs; 12) cell




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