The Microgravity of Space Could Reduce Tumour Aggression

Space can have weird effects on our body. Scientists have recently discovered that space has strangely beneficial effects on cancer, with tumour cells expressing fewer […]

Space can have weird effects on our body. Scientists have recently discovered that space has strangely beneficial effects on cancer, with tumour cells expressing fewer “malignancy” genes in space than on Earth. These genes aid the spread of cancer from tissue to tissue, and the researchers  hope to use this new finding to unravel the causative mechanisms to improve drug development.

This study, published in the FASEB journal, resulted from an investigation involving the Science in Microgravity Box (SIMBOX) – apparatus stowed aboard the Shenzhou-8 spaceship launched in 2011. When normal cells are grown in space they aggregate into three-dimensional groups (spheroids). If these spheroids are made of cancer cells, they are quite similar to the groups of cancer cells that spread throughout the body.

Thyroid cancer cells grown in the SIMBOX were analysed for changes in gene expression compared to cells cultured on Earth. This analysis revealed decreased expression of genes suggestive of high malignancy in cancer cells. This effect could be mimicked by growing cells under conditions of simulated microgravity on Earth. Follow-up studies are being planned on other space missions to identify more and more genes and proteins affected by microgravity, in order to develop new strategies to treat diseases such as cancer. Further work will need to determine how microgravity has this effect, but it is a promising new area for research.

The original study can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24196587

Iona Twaddell

About Iona Twaddell

Iona is a third year undergraduate studying psychology at Wadham.