Microgravity, or weightlessness, can be experienced while in free fall. People often describe the sensation as floating. Microgravity eliminates the concepts of up or down, allowing objects to move in any direction when pushed. If you were to let go of an object in microgravity, it would float away from you.
This condition can have some interesting effects on the human body. For example, without the force of gravity pulling down on the body, blood can pool in the upper half of the body. It can cause people to feel flushed and may even make their faces appear puffy. In more extreme cases, it can lead to a condition called "red out," where the blood vessels in the eyes dilate and cause the person to see red.
Scientists and researchers are running tests aboard the International Space Station to learn about cancer biology. Since its founding fifty years ago in 1958, NASA's exploration and research missions have benefited people worldwide by expanding our civilization's horizons, acquiring knowledge, and developing new technologies and applications that provide incredible recent advances in the quality of human life.
Experiments conducted in the weightless space environment are not typically at the forefront of the mind of a cancer biologist.
However, space conditions offer unattainable physical settings on Earth, and researchers can exploit these conditions to study mechanisms and pathways that control cell growth and function. Over the past four decades, studies have shown how exposure to micro-gravity alters biological processes that may be relevant to cancer—fighting Cancer with Microgravity Research.
Researchers can use zero gravity in several ways to study cancer cells. Utilizing reduced gravity is one method to grow larger, more uniform tumors. Cancer cells in weightlessness grow into three-dimensional spheres rather than the flat, two-dimensional colonies they form on Earth. These spheres more closely resemble the tumors in the body, making them better models for studying the disease.
Studying how cancer progresses in zero gravity is another approach to using weightlessness for research. Studies have shown that cancer cells grow and spread faster in microgravity than on Earth. This effect is likely due to the lack of gravity-induced stress on the cells. In zero gravity, the cells are accessible from the force of gravity, which allows them to grow and spread more quickly.
Finally, researchers can use weightlessness to study the effects of radiation on cancer cells. Radiation is a known cause of cancer, and studies in microgravity can help to elucidate the mechanisms by which it causes the disease. Although relatively new, researchers in microgravity cancer research have the potential to gain insights into the disease that would be unattainable on Earth. The unique conditions of space offer scientists a new way to study cancer and develop new treatments for the disease.
The International Space Station is an ideal platform for cancer research, as it provides a weightless environment for extended periods. Cancer research conducted on the space station can potentially improve the quality of life for cancer patients worldwide.