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Researchers Study Cell Functions Under Zero Gravity

Update Date: Apr 16, 2013 03:50 PM EDT
Outer Space
Researchers have known that red blood cells and certain genes change behavior once they leave earth and enter outer space. (Photo : Flickr/Jurvetson)

Before men walked on the moon, the concept of zero gravity existed mostly in its abstract form. Now, due to the progression of science, certain people can experience the feeling of zero gravity that exists outside of earth. It seems like research has also clenched on to the shuttle departing to outer space as more and more scientists aim to study cell behavior in microgravity.  According to new reports, researchers are interested in studying cell behavior under the condition of zero gravity. Gravity on earth is roughly 10,000 to one million times stronger than gravity within the low-Earth orbit. This fact has interested researchers into seeing how differently cells develop, particularly into cancer cells, under these conditions.

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"When gravitational force is reduced, cell shape changes, the way they grow changes, the genes they activate changes, the proteins they make change," cell biologist, Jeanne Becker from Nano3D Biosciences in Houston, TX stated. "When you take away the force of gravity, you can unmask some things you can't readily see on Earth."

Cell research in outer space is not a new concept however. In the 1970s, some researchers found that red blood cells grew bumpy surfaces when exposed to the conditions outside of earth. These physical changes reverted back to normal once they were reintroduced to earth. Ever since then, research into these kinds of situational and environmental changes has revealed other interesting facts. One of the latest research found that 1,632 genes out of 10,000 changed behaviors when exposed to microgravity. These genes were particularly responsible for cell death and tumor suppression. Current research in microgravity is focused on studying cells in a 3D arena as opposed to the flat surfaces more commonly used in labs. Researchers want to create devices that can levitate cells and allow them to study cells from all different angles.

"The work we do can help address how cancer grows, reveal new ways of tackling drug resistance," Becker stated. "When you grow cancers in three dimensions as opposed to flat layers, their response to drugs is vastly different - they become more resistant to drugs."

Whether or not the approach of microgravity can in fact lead to possible new drug treatments would be exciting to witness. However, due to limited resources and the amount of funds it would take to make more labs with microgravity, this kind of research has a long way to go.

The report was published in the journal, Nature Reviews Cancer

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