KENNEDY SPACE CENTER (FL), May 17, 2023 – Astronauts on Axiom Space’s second all-private crew mission (Ax-2) to the International Space Station (ISS) will be part of an experiment that will investigate microgravity’s potentially cancer-causing effects in blood stem cells. Led by researchers from the Sanford Stem Cell Institute at the University of California San Diego, this ISS National Laboratory-sponsored study aims to uncover new insights into protecting astronaut health while benefiting cancer treatment on Earth.
By analyzing blood samples taken from the astronauts before, during, and after spaceflight, the research team seeks to understand how microgravity affects stem cell aging and cancer transformation. Specifically, the team will evaluate changes in DNA- and RNA-editing enzymes and genetic mutations in blood stem cells. The project adds to a growing body of cancer research sponsored by the ISS National Lab.
Results from this investigation could aid in developing drugs that protect astronauts from detrimental health risks as well as early methods of cancer detection and even new therapeutics for treating cancer on Earth.
“Microgravity is like rocket fuel for aging stem cells, which can ultimately result in cancer’s initiation,” said project principal investigator Catriona Jamieson, director of the Sanford Stem Cell Institute at UC San Diego. “By studying astronauts’ blood samples, we hope to accelerate our understanding of how stem cells change in space, which could revolutionize how we protect astronaut health.”
Previous research by Jamieson’s team has shown that microgravity accelerates stem cell aging, which can trigger changes in the RNA-editing enzyme ADAR (Adenosine Deaminase RNA Specific). ADAR introduces edits that alter RNA function, potentially triggering cancer in blood stem cells. Jamieson’s team has found evidence that ADAR works with another enzyme called APOBEC (APOlipoprotein B mRNA-editing Enzyme, Catalytic) that may cause initial mutations in stem cells during the pre-cancerous stage.
The research team will analyze the activity of ADAR and APOBEC in astronauts’ blood samples to gain new insights into the effects of spaceflight on these enzymes and their role in cancer and other health conditions. The results will be compared with those from a separate project by Jamieson’s team that is also launching on the Ax-2 mission to study intestinal cancer organoids.
“Space is an accelerating environment where we’ll be able to identify new therapies and new ways to target cancer faster, maybe even at the pre-cancer stage,” Jamieson said. “We saw that cancer spreads faster in space; now we want to know how we block it.”
Private astronaut missions provide investigators with a new access point in leveraging the ISS National Lab to accelerate research and technology development and establish a robust economy in low Earth orbit. The Ax-2 mission is targeted for launch from Kennedy Space Center no earlier than May 21 at 5:37 p.m. EDT. This mission includes more than 15 payloads sponsored by the ISS National Lab. To learn more about all ISS National Lab-sponsored research on Ax-2, please visit our launch page.
Download a high-resolution image: Researchers at Sanford Stem Cell Institute
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About the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory: The International Space Station (ISS) is a one-of-a-kind laboratory that enables research and technology development not possible on Earth. As a public service enterprise, the ISS National Lab allows researchers to leverage this multiuser facility to improve life on Earth, mature space-based business models, advance science literacy in the future workforce, and expand a sustainable and scalable market in low Earth orbit. Through this orbiting national laboratory, research resources on the space station are available to support non-NASA science, technology and education initiatives from U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), Inc. manages the ISS National Lab, under Cooperative Agreement with NASA, facilitating access to its permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. To learn more about the ISS National Lab, visit www.ISSNationalLab.org.
About Axiom Space: Axiom Space is building history, guided by the vision of a thriving home in space that benefits every human, everywhere. The leading provider of human spaceflight services and developer of human-rated space infrastructure, Axiom Space operates end-to-end missions to the International Space Station today while developing its successor, Axiom Station – a permanent commercial destination in low-Earth orbit that will sustain human growth off the planet and bring untold benefits back home. For more information about Axiom Space, visit www.axiomspace.com.
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