Space technology for cancer: news about cancer research from space
I F Star Trek If Spock were to see real-world medical and technological advances created from experiments conducted in space, it would make sense that his response would be: “Magic.” In fact, the science fiction stories featured on television and movies offered something far more important than afternoon entertainment. It served as an inspiration behind the actual work done by many astronauts while traveling in space, helping to shape some of the tools and technologies that are positively popular today. What you may have laughed at like cheesy accessories influenced many products and interfaces in use today, from medical technology to computers and communication devices. Take the tricorder used in Star Trek , for example. Practical prototype of a fictional hand tool used in enterprise spaceship surveyPatients, who read their vital signs and diagnose potential diseases in minutes, are tested for the market and recently won a major medical device competition.
“With the International Space Station, we have a lab that doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s an exciting platform for discovery.” Cell biologist Jane Becker
The future is now
The future has also reached the field of cancer research, where scientists are taking their experiments to the last frontier. Research into space microgravity has already contributed to the development of current cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. Now, astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) are investigating at least one potential cancer treatment, called an antibody conjugate (ADC). In the process, the experiments are taking cancer research to a place never seen before. “With the International Space Station, we have a lab not found anywhere else,” says cell biologist Jane Becker of Nano3D Biosciences in Houston. Space.com website . “It’s an exciting platform for discovery.”
The ADC research, which was conducted by scientists on Earth in collaboration with astronauts on the International Space Station, includes a type of immunotherapy. ADCs are hybrid cells that have the ability to combine the targeting capabilities of antibodies with the cancer-killing ability of a chemotherapy drug, in this case azonafide. In theory, ADCs would seek out and only stick to cancer cells and deliver their cytotoxic payload directly to cell membranes, killing them from within and without affecting nearby healthy cells. By conducting research in space, scientists can conduct experiments on cells grown in microgravity, which better replicate the look and behavior of cells in the body. “In space, you can grow cancerous tumors larger and larger in a spherical shape, so you have a better model of what’s going on in the human body,” co-author Luis Zia told NASA. “There are fewer chances of having false negatives or false positives.”
In past years, scientists have launched ovarian, colorectal, kidney and other cancer cells into space on space shuttles and rockets bound for the International Space Station, where they can later mature and be used in research on Earth. NASA credits cancer research in space with identifying new genetic properties called biomarkers in certain cancer cells and developing new diagnostic and surgical techniques. Technology developed for space exploration is now being used in breast cancer research. Recent successes led the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to expand its research partnership with the National Cancer Institute through 2021.
Lessons learned from space travel
Ironically, research indicates that space travel can increase astronauts’ risk of a variety of diseases and conditions, including heart disease and cancer. While television space explorers are often seen walking through gravity-controlled vehicles in color-coded uniforms without worry, real astronauts are exposed to high levels of cosmic radiation and proton radiation that can damage DNA. The researchers concluded that this exposure explains the higher rates of cardiovascular disease in astronauts. The researchers also found chromosomal aberrations in lymphocytes taken from crew members after their space missions.
According to an American scientist, NASA lands astronauts, and the risk of developing cancer exceeds 3 percent of the general population. A study from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, concluded that with current technology, a trip to Mars would double a space traveler’s risk of developing cancer. So, while space research is making great strides in treating cancer and other breakthroughs, much more needs to be done to find ways to nurture the men and women who bravely carry out these experiments in space.