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SpaceX astronauts embark on expedition to research reversing immune system ageing

Posted:Sep 01, 2023 16:15 Category: Americas , Med Tech , Posted by Matthew Calleja

SpaceX astronauts have embarked on an extraordinary mission: to explore methods of reversing the ageing of the immune system. This unique venture, supported by the ISS National Laboratory, encompasses various studies, with a particular focus on using tissue chips to delve into liver regeneration and the ageing of the immune system.

Of SpaceX, astronauts and tissue chips

In a recent announcement, NASA disclosed plans for a team of four astronauts to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) by August 25. Their ambitious six-month expedition centres around scientific research aimed at advancing healthcare possibilities on Earth.

The launch, originating from the Kennedy Space Center, features NASA’s SpaceX Crew-7 astronauts, who are poised to execute multiple research projects under the sponsorship of the ISS National Lab.

A notable study involves researchers from the University of California San Francisco. These experts will harness tissue chip technology to uncover the intricate connections between liver regeneration and immune system ageing, with the ultimate aim of discovering innovative strategies for enhancing the liver’s healing process.

Tissue chips are miniature devices with the remarkable ability to mimic human tissue behaviour. Leveraging these chips, scientists can delve into age-related liver concerns and regeneration patterns prevalent among the elderly, all within a microgravity setting.

Over a span of one month, the UC San Francisco research team will investigate the relationship between immune system ageing and healing outcomes, accelerating their findings in comparison to studies conducted on Earth. This acceleration is due to the parallels between physiological changes caused by space conditions and those experienced during the natural aging process.

Of particular interest, many of these changes revert or adjust upon reentry to Earth’s environment, offering a distinct opportunity for a two-way exploration of the ageing process. This investigation holds the potential to unlock insights into reversing immune system ageing, ultimately benefiting life on our cherished home planet.

“Sending these immune chips into space will enable us to simulate the ageing process of the immune system and understand how it affects our body’s ability to repair itself as we grow older,” Sonja Schrepfer, professor of surgery at UCSF and lead of the investigation, said in a statement.

Towards long-term impact

Taking a step back to October, SpaceX embarked on their 5th Commercial Crew mission, dedicating half a year to research conducted in space. Among these efforts was a project focusing on the creation of a protein-based artificial retina and an exploration into the shifts in gut microbes due to the unique space environment.

In the midst of the surging wave of space exploration, concerns related to health and safety are gaining significant attention.

In this context, organizations like the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine have taken a deep dive into the examination of health factors in space. Their engagement with various groups involves assessing the potential application of these insights to enrich human well-being on Earth.

In the year 2021, TRISH introduced an innovative initiative known as EXPAND (Enhancing eXploration Platforms and Analog Definition). This ingenious research platform compiles data from flights and consolidates it into a comprehensive database. The core objective? To meticulously study astronaut health, refine comprehension, and incubate innovations that can be applied to terrestrial contexts.

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