September 24, 2023

SpaceX astronauts embark on expedition to research reversing immune system aging

NASA announced that four astronauts will launch to the International Space Station (ISS) by August 25 on a six-month science expedition to perform research to improve healthcare options on Earth.

Launched from the Kennedy Space Center, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-7 astronauts will bring multiple research investigations sponsored by the ISS National Lab. 

Among the various studies, researchers from the University of California San Francisco will perform tissue chip investigations to better understand the correlation between liver regeneration and immune aging to find new ways of improving the liver healing process. 

Tissue chips are small devices that can model the ways human tissue functions. The chips will allow researchers to study age-related liver dysfunction and regeneration commonly seen in elderly individuals using liver tissue mimics in a microgravity setting.

The month-long investigation from UC San Francisco will help researchers understand the correlation between immune aging and healing outcomes at a faster pace they can on Earth, since many space-related physiological changes resemble ones that happen during the aging process. 

After exposure to microgravity, such changes are more or less reversed after reentry, which allows for a bidirectional investigation of the aging process. Through the investigation researchers hope to determine how the immune aging process can be reversed here on Earth.  

“Sending these immune chips into space will enable us to simulate the aging process of the immune system and understand how it affects our body’s ability to repair itself as we grow older,” Sonja Schrepfer, professor of surgery at UCSF and lead of the investigation, said in a statement

THE LARGER TREND

In October, SpaceX’s 5th Commercial Crew mission began a six-month venture into space-based research, including an investigation to create a protein-based artificial retina and evaluate how gut microbes change in space.

As space exploration increases, health and safety concerns are prevalent.

Companies such as the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine are studying space health and partnering with companies to evaluate how those findings can, in turn, be used to improve human health on Earth. 

In 2021, TRISH launched EXPAND (Enhancing eXploration Platforms and Analog Definition). This research platform collects data from flights and keeps it in a centralized database to study and improve the health of astronauts and find innovations for use on Earth.

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