Some tumors seem to be much less aggressive in the microgravity environment of space compared to Earth, researchers have found.
This observation, reported in research published in February by the FASEB Journal
, could help scientists understand the mechanism involved and develop drugs targeting tumors that don't respond to current treatments. This work is the latest in a large body of evidence on how space exploration benefits those of us on Earth.
Research in the weightlessness of space offers unique insight into genetic and cellular processes that simply can't be duplicated on Earth, even in simulated microgravity. "Microgravity can be approximated on Earth, but we know from the literature that simulated microgravity isn't the same as the real thing," says Daniela Gabriele Grimm, M.D., a researcher with the Department of Biomedicine, Pharmacology at Aarhus University in Aarhus, Denmark, and an author of the FASEB paper.
True weightlessness affects human cells in a number of ways. For one thing, cells grown in space arrange themselves into three-dimensional groupings, or aggregates, that more closely resemble what happens in the body. "Without gravitational pull, cells form three-dimensional aggregates, or spheroids," Grimm explains. "Spheroids from cancer cells share many similarities with metastases, the cancer cells which spread throughout the body." Determining the molecular mechanisms behind spheroid formation might therefore improve our understanding of how cancer spreads.