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Study of DNA damage in space may help cancer patients on Earth

International Space Station
International Space Station
NASA via Wikicommons

NASA has announced plans to launch a new scientific study dubbed Micro-7 (MicroRNA Expression Profiles in Cultured Human Fibroblast) to the International Space Station on March 16th in order to study the effects of DNA damage caused by radiation and lack of gravity in space by comparing cells in spaceflight with those on Earth to “identify unknown functions of microRNA and how they are regulated in our bodies. Not only is this expected to help improve the health of astronauts in space, it may one day help researchers here on Earth develop new drug treatments for terrestrial diseases that break down tissues and organs.

“When a cell in the human body is exposed to radiation, DNA will be broken and repaired, which is considered the initiation stage of (cancer) tumor development,” explains Honglu Wu, PhD and principal investigator at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Cells damaged from radiation exposure in space also experience microgravity, which we know changes gene expressions even without radiation exposure. However, if we learn more about how cells repair DNA damage more efficiently or less efficiently in space, that knowledge also will be helpful for cancer radiotherapy or treatment with radiation.”

Although past studies exposed cells or organisms on Earth to high-energy charged particles to simulate space radiation, using the resulting cell damage or induction of tumors in attempts to “predict the risk of cancer for astronauts from radiation), they did not include the effects caused by microgravity, The new Micro-7 study will attempt to correct this serious omission. However, since there is “no controlled radiation source aboard the space station, the cells will be treated with chemotherapy drug bleomycin, to induce DNA damage,” added Wu.

Note: Micro-7 is run by the Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA., and is funded by NASA’s Space Biology Program. Bioserve Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colo. is providing the experiment hardware and implementing the science payload aboard the space station.

Source: International Space Station Program Science Office NASA's Johnson Space Center