The study shows how living in space can weaken astronauts’ immune systems
London Aug 27: As humanity aims for manned missions to the Moon and Mars, a new study shows that the immune system’s T-cells can be affected by the weightlessness of space and render them ineffective for fighting infections.
Space is a very hostile environment and poses threats to human health. One such threat, researchers said in the study, published in the journal Science Advances, are changes in the immune system that occur in astronauts while they are in space and persist after they return to Earth.
This immune deficiency can make them more susceptible to infections and lead to reactivation of dormant viruses in the body.
“If we want astronauts to be able to carry out safe space missions, we need to understand how their immune systems are affected and try to find ways to counteract harmful changes in them,” said Lisa Westerberg, principal investigator in the Department of Microbiology, Oncology and Oncology. Cell Biology, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.
“We have now been able to investigate what happens to T cells, which are a key component of the immune system, when they are exposed to conditions of weightlessness,” Westerberg added.
In this study, the researchers attempted to simulate weightlessness in space using a method called dry immersion. This includes a custom-made waterbed that tricks the body into thinking it is in a state of weightlessness.
The researchers examined the T cells in the blood of eight healthy individuals over three weeks of exposure to simulated weightlessness. Blood analyzes were performed before the trial began, seven days, 14 days, and 21 days after the start, and seven days after the trial ended.
They found that the T cells significantly altered their gene expression – which genes were active and which were not – after seven and 14 days of weightlessness, and that the cells became more immature in their genetic programme. The greatest effect was seen after 14 days.
“The T cells are beginning to resemble so-called naïve T cells, which have not yet encountered any intruders. This may mean that they take longer to activate, and therefore become less effective at fighting cancer cells and infections. Our results could pave the way for a new life,” said Carlos Gallardo-Dodd, a doctoral student in the department. Institute Microbiology, Oncology, and Cell Biology: “The Path to New Therapies Reflects These Changes in the Genetic Program of Immune Cells.”
After 21 days, the T cells had “adapted” their gene expression to weightlessness so that it was almost back to normal, but analyzes conducted seven days after the end of the experiment showed that the cells had recovered some of the changes.
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