Australian Scientist send cancer cells into space

Dr Joshua Chou is a space medicine researcher, and he wants to blast cancer cells into orbit to see how they hold up in near-zero gravity. The Australian scientist, from the University of Technology in Sydney, is preparing to send a small sample of cells to the International Space Station (ISS) after trials on Earth indicated that cancer’s ability to survive might be radically affected in low-gravity conditions, the ABC reports.
The cells will be placed into a device smaller than a tissue box, loaded onto a rocket, and fired off toward the ISS. If successful, it’s hoped that the experiment will lead to a better understanding of cancer and how it can be treated in the future.
It all comes down to a process called mechanical unloading, apparently, which in the case of cells refers to the way they respond when there’s a lack of gravity and, in turn, a lack of force. “This actually affects how the cells move, how they function, and it also dictate[s] their survivability,” Dr Chou explained to the ABC’s 7:30 program. “Our hypothesis is that they can no longer sense their surrounding and, therefore, the cells go into the state of apoptosis, or cell death.”
That hypothesis was tested by Dr Chou and one of his students, Anthony Kirollos, who put four different types of cancer—ovarian, breast, nose, and lung—into a micro-gravity simulator that dramatically reduces gravity and mimics the conditions in space.
“What we found was that in 24 hours in this micro-gravity condition, 80 to 90 percent of the cancer cells actually die without drug treatment,” said Dr Chou. “This is simply in a micro-gravity environment.”
The samples being sent into space “are some of the hardest cancers to kill”, according to Dr Chou. And when the rocket carrying them launches next year, it will mark Australia’s very first research mission to the ISS.
Before that happens, though, there are some hurdles to be overcome—including miniaturising a lot of the technology so that it conforms to the limits on weight and size dimensions. It’s thought that this will cost somewhere in the range of $200,000. But it’s hoped that the experiment will make a valuable contribution to the progress of cancer treatment strategies.
“In my head, this is not supposed to be a cure, a golden bullet to cure cancer, but it can work in parallel to existing therapies, drug treatments, and so forth, to help increase the efficiency of the current treatment,” Dr Chou said. “When I started this project, a lot of people called me crazy. And, you know… that launch will really be a milestone in my life.”I think I’m going to cry for a bit,” he added, “but I’ll be very happy about it.”


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