Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Scientist-astronaut sends T-cells into space

Experiment designed to pinpoint which genes in immune cascade don’t turn on in zero-gee; earlier version was aboard STS-107, destroyed with shuttle Columbia

A former astronaut and researcher at the San Francisco VA Medical Center will be traveling to the Cosmodrome space-launch site at Baikonur, Kazakhstan, this Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006, to prepare a crucial experiment designed to demonstrate how human immune response is suppressed in the weightless environment of space.

Millie Hughes-Fulford, PhD, director of the Laboratory of Cell Growth at SFVAMC, scientific advisor to the Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and a payload specialist aboard space shuttle flight STS-40 in 1991, will send human T-cells up to the International Space Station aboard ISS Soyuz 13. That science mission, operated by the European Space Agency, is scheduled to launch from Baikonur between September 14 and September 18, 2006.

"We're doing this experiment because many astronauts are immunosuppressed during flight. Their T-cells stop working in microgravity," says Hughes-Fulford, who is also an adjunct professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. "This experiment will tell us for the first time exactly which genes involved in the normal immune response aren't activated in space."

T-cells are white blood cells that play a central role in the body's immune response. They are a target of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which suppresses them. When an HIV patient's T-cell count falls below 200, he or she is susceptible to the dangerous infections that are the symptoms of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

The problem of immunosuppression in microgravity was first noted during the Apollo moon mission series in the 1960s and 1970s, when 15 out of 29 Apollo astronauts developed infections during their missions or soon after landing. Subsequent experiments aboard Skylab and several space shuttle missions, including Fulford's, confirmed that T-cells do not activate properly in microgravity.

"In this experiment, we're looking at why they're not working," says Hughes-Fulford. "Normally, in order for T-cells to be activated, certain genes have to be expressed in a certain order, in what's called a signaling pathway. Aboard the ISS, we hope to find exactly which genes are not being expressed in microgravity."

The experiment will be carried to the International Space Station inside a specially designed incubator called Kubik, which was made to fit precisely under the cosmonaut's seat in the Soyuz spacecraft. Kubik contains a compartment for weightless experiments as well as a centrifuge that can accelerate cells in a range from 0.2 to 2 earth gravities.

On board the space station, European Space Agency astronaut-scientist Thomas Reiter will simultaneously activate T-cells in the weightless compartment and in the centrifuge for four hours. "By activating the cells, he'll be simulating the activation that normally occurs in response to infection," Hughes-Fulford explains. "He'll be setting up the whole cascade that would normally turn on the T-cells. Except we know that some of the genes will not turn on because they're in a weightless environment."

At the end of the experiment, the T-cells will be safely packaged and then sent back to Earth aboard the returning Soyuz craft. In her VA lab in San Francisco, Hughes-Fulford will analyze the results.

"Our expectation is that the T-cells in the centrifuge – basically, under artificial gravity – will be activated normally, and the T-cells in microgravity will not be activated," she predicts. "We will compare them side by side and discover, for the first time, exactly which genes did not turn on in microgravity."

Hughes-Fulford placed an earlier version of the same experiment aboard the space shuttle Columbia on shuttle mission STS-107. At the end of that mission on February 1, 2003, the Columbia broke up upon reentry into Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven crew members and destroying all experiments aboard.

"We cannot go to Mars, or even to the Moon over the long term, without knowing more about why T-cells are not working," says Hughes-Fulford. "When we learn that, we can start looking for possible treatments."

Steve Tokar | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Astronaut Hughes-Fulford T-cell microgravity weightless

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>