Shedding new light on the effects of zero gravity on genetic perturbations, Indian researchers have indicated weightlessness may enhance the response of anti-cancer drugs. On the flip-side, the scientists say, it could also induce cancers such as in the liver and leukemia in humans.
The findings could aid authorities in designing new drugs to combat micro gravity-related illnesses.
Using a systems biology approach - computational and mathematical modeling of complex biological systems - experts at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINP) and Presidency University here studied the linkages between gene expression and human health in micro-gravity condition.
"The aim was to understand how various molecular pathways are regulated in response to micro-gravity and how it alters expression of genes. Through a new type of analysis (systems biology), we have found the genetic signature for leukemia and liver cancer," Sangram Bagh, Ramanujan Fellow, Associate Professor, Biophysics and Structural Genomics Division, SINP, told IANS.
"Additionally, we have shown cancer drugs may respond better in zero gravity," said Bagh, also the lead author of the study.
The findings have been published in Nature Scientific Reports in May and the team includes Sayak Mukhopadhyay, Rohini Saha, Anbarasi Palanisamy, Madhurima Ghosh, Anupriya Biswas, Saheli Roy, Arijit Pal and Kathakali Sarkar.
The researchers analyzed over 8,000 molecular pathways involved in genetic changes and mined data from multiple human cell experiments in a space station, during space flight and facilities producing zero gravity-like conditions on earth.
"Our results suggest a set of specific hypotheses that can be tested directly in an earth-based micro-gravity simulator or in space flight conditions and may help assessing risks and developing new medicine for micro gravity induced health hazards," said Bagh.
Advanced statistical methods, machine-learning algorithms and databases were deployed to understand the complexities surrounding micro-gravity and how the pathways triggering alterations in genes are regulated.
Despite a plethora of studies in fields like genomics, proteomics and transcriptomics, a full picture of what is actually happening inside the cell was lacking, Bagh said.
"There are two types of hazards in space exploration: radiation and micro-gravity. People knew about radiation hazards but there is no detailed report on the effects of micro-gravity on cancer from a genetic standpoint.
"Our study is the first one to report genetic signatures for liver and leukemia in micro-gravity," said Bagh.
In addition, Bagh said the results further reveal that zero gravity may reduce inflammation, autoimmunity, diabetes and asthma.
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"What we want to emphasize is that India is at the forefront of space research but a dedicated space biology program is still lacking and that needs to be started soon," he added.