You’ve heard of reaching for the Moon, but the White House’s Cancer Moonshot initiative aims to do more. The recently reignited initiative has set forth an ambitious goal: to reduce the cancer death rate by at least half by 2047—which would prevent more than 4 million deaths—and improve the lives of people diagnosed with cancer. Last week, the White House released a new fact sheet of actions to move the initiative forward, and the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory and NASA are highlighted as key players.
Achieving the lofty goals of the Cancer Moonshot will take cutting-edge technologies and innovative approaches supported by many individuals across academia, industry, and government. One of the actions listed by the White House is harnessing the ISS as a one-of-a-kind platform to advance cancer research and drug development.
Scientists are already leveraging the ISS National Lab to make significant strides in cancer research. In microgravity, reduced gravitational forces and exposure to elevated radiation levels provide a unique setting for conducting experiments in ways not possible on Earth. These conditions can help researchers better understand fundamental biological processes, including those related to cancer, leading to novel insights and potential breakthroughs. For example, biotechnology startup MicroQuin has used microgravity to study the process that transforms normal cells into cancer cells, and the Sanford Stem Cell Institute sent cancer stem cells to space twice to study factors that drive the growth of cancer cells.
To help advance the Cancer Moonshot initiative, the ISS National Lab is partnering with NASA’s Biological and Physical Sciences Division to fund cancer research and technology development onboard the orbiting lab. The recently released solicitation, Igniting Innovation: Science in Space to Cure Disease on Earth, will serve as a catalyst for groundbreaking cancer research on the space station. Projects will aim to improve cancer models, develop new treatments, broaden research advancements, foster new collaborations, and accelerate biomanufacturing in space.
ISS National Lab Chief Scientific Officer Michael Roberts said, “As the Cancer Moonshot initiative continues to inspire researchers in the fight against cancer, NASA and the ISS National Lab will leverage space to enable the nation to realize the ambitious goals set forth by the White House, offering hope to countless cancer patients and their families.”