Researchers Shape Human Cells In Space

Posted: Sep 28 2015, 12:32am CDT | by , Updated: Sep 28 2015, 9:20pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Researchers Shape Human Cells in Space
Samples for the Cell Shape and Expression investigation are seen housed in Kubik, an incubator that also contains a centrifuge. Credits: NASA

An experiment on the ISS shows the impact of microgravity on human cells.

The cells in our body can change their shape and it is not a good thing. A science experiment at the ISS investigated how cells change shape in microgravity.

Cells have a so called cytoskeleton. A Cytoskeleton is a matrix of proteins that serve as a rigid structure for a cell much as our bones serve as a skeleton for our bodies.

The Cytospace investigation examined how physical forces including shear stress, stiffness, surface tension, and gravity are changing the shape of cells. The popular Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti has been conducting the experiment during her stay aboard the ISS.

Shaping Cells in Space

The cell shape changes affect signaling pathways in the cell and alter its patterns of gene expression.

“These cytoskeleton modifications enhance reframing of the cell shape and lead to significant changes in cell function and behavior. Shear stress in particular is known to cause several changes that can result in cell death and that affect cell division and permeability in addition to gene expression,” says principal investigator Marco Vukich, Ph.D., with Kayser Italia in Italy.

In microgravity a change in cytoskeleton structure leading to alteration of the cell shape and, then, biochemical and genetic changes in the cell. The end result can be a disease.

Researchers suspect that microgravity can cause these changes in the cytoskeleton structure and subsequent gene-expression changes. If the research confirms this correlation, then it may be possible to address some of the negative effects of microgravity by stabilizing the cell cytoskeleton.

A future drug could be a remedy against the damage to cells caused by microgravity.

The cell cytoskeleton is also responsible in several human diseases including connective tissue diseases, cancer, and osteoporosis.

“Several human diseases are known to have a more or less dramatic involvement of the cytoskeleton. Cytoskeleton changes are thought to play a pivotal role in orchestrating the cross-talk among cells and their microenvironment. Disrupting that cross-talk is likely to foster both cancer onset and its progression,” says co-investigator Alessandro Palombo, Ph.D., department of molecular and clinical medicine at Sapienza University of Rome.

The shape of cells might become an essential indicator for life in space. Via NASA.

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