Dr. Joshua Chou, a space medicine researcher, aims to put cancer cells into orbit in order to analyze how they react in near-zero gravity.
The Australian-born scientist from the University of Technology, Sydney, is preparing to send the cell sample to the International Space Station (ISS) after noticing that, following tests on Earth, the ability of cancer to survive in low-gravity conditions is significantly reduced.
The process for getting the cancer cells into space will be as follows: they will be placed in a device that is even smaller than a box of tissues, and then sent on a rocket to the ISS. If successful, the experiment could shed light on the understanding of the deadly disease and how it could be treated in the future.
How will cancer cells react to the lack of gravity?
Apparently, it all comes down to a process known as mechanical unloading, which, in the case of cancer cells, refers to the way they respond when there is a lack of gravity, and at the same time a lack of force. As Dr. Chou explained on ABC’s 7.30 program:
“This, in fact, affects how cells move, how they function and also dictates their survival. We hypothesize that the cells can no longer sense their environment and therefore enter a state of apoptosis or cell death.”
Dr. Chou and one of his students, Anthony Kirollos, tested their hypothesis. For which they used four different types of cancer (ovarian, nose, breast and lung) in a microgravity simulator, which mimics space conditions.
According to Dr. Chou:
“What we found was that, within 24 hours of being in this microgravity condition, 80 to 90 percent of the cancer cells actually die without drug treatment. This is simply in a microgravity environment.”
Finally, the experiment is expected to make a valuable contribution to the progress of cancer treatment strategies. Therefore, Dr. Chou emphasized that:
“To my understanding, this is not supposed to be a cure, but it can work in parallel with existing therapies, drug treatments, etc., to help increase the efficacy of current treatment.”
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