Back in 2006 and 2007, I had the opportunity to work with a team of physicians, educators and policy makers to create a comprehensive training module entitled, “The Truth about Stem Cells.” The training was to work with the medical community, Howard University Hospital and minority communities at-large to explain the differences between adult stem cells, cord blood stem cells and the highly controversial embryonic stem cell. The goal was to redefine stem cell work as regenerative medicine and to discuss the benefits of adult stem cell treatment. Recently, NASA and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have played a part in this endeavor with their research. NIH maintains a data-
based of stem cell research and publications and NASA has had several flight missions with stem cell payloads. Research has proven that adult stem cells hold the key to possible cures for various diseases such as sickle cell anemia, diabetes, bone marrow disease and cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and many others. It is exciting to see that only a few years later, Federal legislation has been passed on stem cell research and the science and medical world have aggressively begun to accept and encourage stem cell treatment strategies.
THE NASA LINK
Most recently, NASA has been involved in studying the link between stem cell growth in microgravity to bone density loss, cardiovascular problems and immune-compromised medical conditions. Cells grown in microgravity generate problematic proteins (absent in normal stem cells) that play a role in bone deterioration and calcium regulation. NASA’s flight surgeon, Dr. Mike Duncan, estimates that astronauts lose about 1% of their bone mineral density every month they are in space. Astronauts have participated in a study where they took bone-building drugs known as bisphosphonates that ward of bone deterioration. Overall, astronauts who are in extended space flight may experience significant bone deterioration, heart problems and a suppressed immune system. Despite the daily exercise regimen they can easily break bones, experience cardiac discomfort and get sick quicker while they are millions of miles away from home. One can only imagine what a cold in space would be like. Not good… At any rate, the study of embryonic and adult stem cells in space can lead to treatment advancements here on Earth under normal gravity conditions.
NASA has flown non-embryonic stem cells on the International Space Station (ISS) and on the Space Shuttle Atlantis. In 2011 Atlantis was chosen to fly a very different payload on this historic “last flight” to the ISS. It flew human adipose (fat) from which stem cells are derived. The purpose was to study the effects of regenerative therapies on Astronauts who experience muscle and organ atrophy when in zero gravity. The Department of Defense was also a partner in this research project and Tissue Genesis, Inc. was the sponsor of the ground-breaking study. This was TGI’s 19th shuttle payload involving regenerative research. Five separate adipose tissue samples were harvested from the abdomen of two men and three women and delivered to the TGI lab at Kennedy Space Center and cultured prior to the launch. Once in space, researchers focused on molecular cell behavior that can answer questions about muscle and organ atrophy in space and on Earth. Additionally, this study will aid in changing the way doctor’s practice medicine by providing cures rather than treating symptoms via the ability to isolate unhealthy cells, stop proliferation (growth) and grow healthy cell growth. We must see the implications that this has on cancer research and treatment when cancer is abnormal cell proliferation. The answer to the cure may be in regenerative medicine.
The Stem Cell Rejuvenation Center in Phoenix, AZ currently performs stem cell therapies that reuse a patient’s own stem cells to promote their own healing. The implications of stem cell therapy shine a bright light on our health here on Earth with treatments and prospective cures for (1.) Alzheimer’s disease, (2.) autism, (3.) cerebral palsy, (4.) degenerative disc disease, (5.) heart disease, (6.) stroke, (7.) diabetes, (8.) HIV and many other diseases and conditions.
Lead Scientist, Elizabeth Blaber of the Australian Center for Astrobiology wrote in a 2011 paper that, “research using human stem cells is critical to both space science and cell biology.” Scientists also concur that the findings have implications on future space travel and on ground-based medical treatment solutions. Now, that we have seen the link between space and stem cells, we should understand the importance and expect medical breakthroughs that will improve the quality of life and save lives…