Using microgravity to accelerate the fight against cancer
Space and microgravity provides a unique environment to study cell processes, and is helping an promising new cancer treatment become a reality.
“We are on the verge of something big,”Is the statement from Alessandro Grattoni, director of the Houston Methodist Center of Space Nanomedicine. “It could change the way chemotherapy is delivered.” He talked to Fox News about his latest work on a technology that is placed under the skin and can actually track down and destroy tumors. But why is this potentially revolutionary medicine being tried out in space? Well, the project looks at the way drug molecules move through nanochannels and working with particles 50,000 times smaller than the human hair. Previously only computer models could be used to give a 2-D impression of the movement. Working on the International Space Station, using multiple fluorescent microscopes and making the most of zero-G means it is possible to get a 3-D view.
Ferrari’s initial study cured lung tumours caused by breast cancer in 50 percent of cases when trialed on mice. This is exciting news since most deaths from cancer are caused by tumours in the lung and liver. Another benefit to this treatment is that it does not include pharmaceuticals. That means the production and testing time could be cut down dramatically. The first clinical trial is set to take place in 2017, and already over 2,000 people suffering from cancer have shown interest in participating.
This is not the first time that space has been used to help study cancers in 3-D. Back in 2003 prostate cancer was being studied in zero-G. In 2013 it was found that 1,632 genes altered in microgravity out of the 10,000 genes being investigated. These altered genes included cell death and tumor suppression.