Astronaut examine sheds mild on what makes them get sick extra simply in area : NPR


A brand new examine of astronaut blood finds that area journey alters gene expression in a method that impacts the immune system.


Astronauts should be in glorious well being. They quarantine earlier than blasting off. They dwell and work in a sterile atmosphere. And but, as soon as in outer area, some have viral flare-ups or escape in rashes. A brand new examine helps us perceive why. Here is science reporter Ari Daniel.

ARI DANIEL, BYLINE: Molecular biologist Odette Laneuville wasn’t anticipating Jeremy Hansen, the Canadian astronaut, to just accept her invitation to return over for dinner, however he did.

ODETTE LANEUVILLE: I used to be not prepared. I simply put a salad collectively. And I had some meat pie left from Christmas, so we simply pulled some out and fake I am an excellent cook dinner.

DANIEL: However, dinner was a success, and so had been the conversations Laneuville had with Hansen that week at her lab on the College of Ottawa, the place they mentioned why some astronauts could also be extra weak to infections in area.

LANEUVILLE: We’re the host of a number of viruses and micro organism. And since we’re wholesome, we handle to maintain these at verify. But when we’re burdened, or if there is a dysregulation of the immune system, then the virus will begin being lively – and likewise with micro organism.

DANIEL: …Which may result in an infection – and Laneuville thought perhaps one thing in area was triggering a change within the gene exercise of the immune cells in astronaut blood that was permitting these opportunistic infections to floor. So she and her colleagues enlisted 14 American and Canadian astronauts, all headed to the Worldwide Area Station for a number of months at totally different occasions. Laneuville had their blood sampled earlier than and after their missions right here on Earth, but in addition throughout their time in outer area.

LANEUVILLE: It’s a must to be very cautious to safe all the pieces. We do not need any leak – not a drop of blood. In any other case, it’ll float within the air and contaminate everyone.

DANIEL: The astronauts spun the blood down and saved it in an excellent chilly freezer till they returned to Earth.

LANEUVILLE: I used to be supposed to rent somebody to course of these, however then I mentioned, no, they’re too treasured. This blood comes from area. It was my child, and I needed to deal with it.

DANIEL: Here is what that particular blood revealed. Precisely 100 immune-related genes get dialed down in outer area, perhaps as a result of stress. However perhaps, Laneuville thinks…

LANEUVILLE: These genes reply to a lower in gravitational drive.

DANIEL: That is proper – genes that react to a change in gravity. Laneuville says that, when an astronaut enters microgravity, their blood shifts from their legs to their torsos and heads. It is uncomfortable, so their physique reduces the fluid by as much as 15%. However that now signifies that there are too many immune cells crammed into this smaller quantity of blood. Laneuville thinks the drop in gene exercise helps get rid of these additional cells.

LANEUVILLE: On prime of that, it’ll have an effect on the immune response mounting a line of protection towards pathogen. It is as if the physique is telling them, put your guards down.

DANIEL: …Which might enable viral and bacterial infections usually held at bay to stand up, infecting the astronauts. However as soon as they step foot on land once more, the entire thing reverses. The genes get dialed again up, and plasma ranges return to regular. This work is revealed within the journal Frontiers In Immunology.

JEREMY TEO: It is a good begin.

DANIEL: Particularly as we ship astronauts farther and farther out, says Jeremy Teo, a biomedical engineer at NYU Abu Dhabi, who wasn’t concerned within the examine – to the moon, to Mars…

TEO: As we go additional, the feasibility of extraditing compromised astronauts again to Earth is simply not there anymore. Therefore, we have to develop new countermeasures.

DANIEL: Down the street, Teo says the examine might also have one thing to say about these with compromised immune methods proper right here on Earth.

For NPR Information, I am Ari Daniel.


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