cell, Cell reports, Cell systems, template, and iScience. Photo credit: Jerry Angdisen / Georgetown University “width =” 488 “height =” 480 “/> Georgetown researcher Evagelia C. Laiakis, PhD, and dozens of other scientists described recent findings on the health effects of space as part of a large project Compendium of papers appearing concurrently in Cell, Cell Reports, Cell Systems, Patterns, and iScience Photo credit: Jerry Angdisen / Georgetown University
Studies of both mice and humans who have traveled into space show that critical parts of a cell’s energy-producing machinery called mitochondria can be rendered inoperable due to changes in gravity, radiation exposure and other factors, according to Georgetown researchers Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. These results are part of an extensive research effort in many scientific disciplines to investigate the health effects of space travel. The research has implications for future space travel, as well as how metabolic changes due to space travel could affect medical science on Earth.
The results were published in Cell on November 25, 2020 and are part of a larger compendium of research on health issues in space travel that will be published concurrently in Cell, Cell Reports, Cell Systems, Patterns and iScience.
“My group’s research efforts focused on muscle tissue from mice that were sent into space and compared with analyzes by other scientists studying other mouse tissue,” said Evagelia C. Laiakis, Ph.D., associate professor of oncology at Georgetown. “Although we examined different tissues in each case, we all came to the same conclusion: mitochondrial function was impaired by space travel.”
In addition to studying the effects of space travel on cell function, the scientists used a plethora of data from decades of human NASA flight tests to correlate their results in animals with those of 59 astronauts. They were also able to access data taken from NASA’s repository for bio-species that had flown in space for further comparisons. Data from NASA’s twin study by Mark and Scott Kelly was particularly informative as it enabled a comparison of the health effects of an astronaut in space, Scott and his earthbound brother Mark, a retired astronaut, were able to compare their studies on mice with human data. Laiakis and the research team were able to determine that space travel led to certain metabolic effects:
- Isolated cells were adversely affected to a greater extent than whole organs
- Changes in the liver were more noticeable than in other organs
- Mitochondrial function was impaired
Since space travel almost always exposes people to higher levels of radiation than they do on Earth, scientists knew that such exposure could damage mitochondria. This aspect of radiation exposure leads to health outcomes for cancer patients who are undergoing radiation therapy here on earth. With this knowledge of the effects of radiation on the mitochondria, doctors could adjust radiation therapy in different ways in the future to protect normal tissues. The effects on the trip to Mars are particularly worrying, according to the researchers, as it would mean a much longer time in space and thus a longer exposure to radiation.
“The launch of SpaceX earlier this month was very exciting,” says Laiakis. “From this and other planned ventures to the Moon and eventually Mars, we hope to learn much more about the metabolic effects of space travel and how to mitigate potential adverse effects on future space travelers.”
Defects in mitochondria can explain many health problems observed during space travel. Provided by Georgetown University Medical Center
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