Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Scientists race to use zero gravity to kill the worst cancers
A 2020 space mission wants to use zero gravity to disable some of the hardest cancers to fight.
- An Australian research mission, launched in 2020 by Elon Musk's SpaceX, will study effects of zero gravity on four cancers.
- Other missions with similar objectives are set to launch in 2022 aboard the new China Space Station.
- In earlier experiments, scientists found that microgravity can kill cancer cells.
Can being in zero gravity help beat cancer? A growing field of research, including an upcoming research mission to the International Space Station, is hoping to prove just that.
Joshua Chou, a biomedical engineer from the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, has conducted successful trials in a lab environment, and aims to establish that zero-g can kill cancer cells.
Zero gravity or weightlessness occurs in the absence of the sensation of weight, when no contact forces act upon an object (or a body).
Chou's work looks to pinpoint the sensors by which cancer cells find each other and grow into tumors within a body. He thinks these receptors are dependent on gravity and once it's removed, the cancer can be stopped as the cells won't be able to "sense" each other.
To study this approach further, a graduate student working with Chou created the first microgravity device in Australia. The apparatus is a tissue box-sized spinning container. The researcher described it as "something that looks like the pods astronauts train in."
Joshua Chou with a prototype of Australia's first microgravity device.
Photo by Sissy Reyes.
The device has allowed Chou's team to investigate how microgravity affects different diseases. The scientists report it has been tremendously effective so far in eliminating cancer cells.
"When placed in a microgravity environment, 80 to 90 per cent of the cells in the four different cancer types we tested – ovarian, breast, nose and lung – were disabled," said Chou.
Normally, these are the hardest cancers to fight. Chou's experiments, without using any drugs, managed to either kill such cells or make them "float off because they can no longer hold on."
Early in 2020, Chou and his team will be able to test their approach in space, launching a specially-designed module with the help of SpaceX. The module will be loaded with the four types of cancer cells (ovarian, breast, nose and lung). Once launched, the scientists will be able to monitor it from Earth via data feeds. The experiment is set to last seven days, after which the cells will be frozen and send back to Earth 21 days later on a shuttle. More studies will be conducted once the cells are back in the lab on the ground.
The research team, from left, Chelsea Ly, Carin Basirun, Jessica Domingo and Joshua Chou.
Photo: Joshua Chou.
If Chou and his team succeed, does that mean cancer patients will be sent to space for treatment? While there may be such eventualities as well, Chou's vision is to develop a drug that patients can take while on Earth. He hopes to use it to "trick" cancer cells into behaving like they are in space.
Chou also thinks that this kind of therapy might not be a "magic bullet" that will work on its own, but rather in conjunction with existing treatments. "It could give current treatments like chemotherapy a big enough boost to kill the disease," he adds in a recent article.
Chou's research is not the only one of its kind. Nine research projects are going to study the effects of weightlessness on cancer aboard the new China Space Station (CSS), set for 2022. One such project is "Tumours in Space" that will look at how microgravity and cosmic radiation can affect the growth of tumors.
Tricia L. Larose from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who is the project's Principal Investigator, explained their goal:
"The plan is to send three-dimensional stem cell organoids from both healthy and cancer tissue from the same person into space," she said. "Here we will study mutations and look at how the cell's DNA is affected by weightlessness and cosmic radiation."
Organoids are three-dimensional cancerous tumors that can form small structures mimicking different organs.
Scientists in other countries are also looking at utilizing gravity on cancer. In 2017, a German team, led by professor Daniela Grimm from the University of Magdeburg, studied the effects of space on thyroid cancer cells. This was, in fact, the third time Grimm's team sent such samples into space. Their objective, as Grimm expressed in an interview, is "to find growth-regulating proteins and certain receptors that express and secrete differently in space versus on Earth." If they can find such proteins and receptors, they can develop new drugs to treat the cancers back on our home planet.
The Influence of short-term #Microgravity on Human Prostate CancerThe Influence of short-term #Microgravity on Human Prostate Cancer Cells during a Parabolic Flight . By Prof. Daniela Grimm from University of Magdeburg . Dr...
This storm rained electrons, shifted energy from the sun's rays to the magnetosphere, and went unnoticed for a long time.
- An international team of scientists has confirmed the existence of a "space hurricane" seven years ago.
- The storm formed in the magnetosphere above the North magnetic pole.
- The storm posed to risk to life on Earth, though it might have interfered with some electronics.
What do you call that kind of storm when it forms over the Arctic ocean?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8GqnzBJkWcw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Many objects in space, like Earth, the Sun, most of the planets, and even some large moons, have magnetic fields. The area around these objects which is affected by these fields is known as the magnetosphere.</p><p>For us Earthlings, the magnetosphere is what protects us from the most intense cosmic radiation and keeps the solar wind from affecting our atmosphere. When charged particles interact with it, we see the aurora. Its fluctuations lead to changes in what is known as "space weather," which can impact electronics. </p><p>This "space hurricane," as the scientists are calling it, was formed by the interactions between Earth's magnetosphere and the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_magnetic_field" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interplanetary magnetic field,</a> the part of the sun's magnetosphere that goes out into the solar system. It took on the familiar shape of a cyclone as it followed magnetic fields. For example, the study's authors note that the numerous arms traced out the "footprints of the reconnected magnetic field lines." It rotated counter-clockwise with a speed of nearly 7,000 feet per second. The eye, of course, was still and <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/for-the-first-time-a-plasma-hurricane-has-been-detected-in-space" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">calm</a>.</p><p>The storm, which was invisible to the naked eye, rained electrons and shifted energy from space into the ionosphere. It seems as though such a thing can only form under calm situations when large amounts of energy are moving between the solar wind and the upper <a href="https://www.reading.ac.uk/news-and-events/releases/PR854520.aspx" target="_blank">atmosphere</a>. These conditions were modeled by the scientists using 3-D <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec10" target="_blank">imaging</a>.<br><br>Co-author Larry Lyons of UCLA explained the process of putting the data together to form the models to <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/space-hurricane-rained-electrons-observed-first-time-rcna328" target="_blank">NBC</a>:<br><br>"We had various instruments measuring various things at different times, so it wasn't like we took a big picture and could see it. The really fun thing about this type of work is that we had to piece together bits of information and put together the whole picture."<br><br>He further mentioned that these findings were completely unexpected and that nobody that even theorized a thing like this could exist. <br></p><p>While this storm wasn't a threat to any life on Earth, a storm like this could have noticeable effects on space weather. This study suggests that this could have several effects, including "increased satellite drag, disturbances in High Frequency (HF) radio communications, and increased errors in over-the-horizon radar location, satellite navigation, and communication systems."</p><p>The authors <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">speculate</a> that these "space hurricanes" could also exist in the magnetospheres of other planets.</p><p>Lead author Professor Qing-He Zhang of Shandong University discussed how these findings will influence our understanding of the magnetosphere and its changes with <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/uor-sho030221.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">EurekaAlert</a>:</p><p>"This study suggests that there are still existing local intense geomagnetic disturbance and energy depositions which is comparable to that during super storms. This will update our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling process under extremely quiet geomagnetic conditions."</p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.