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World Space Week Intergalactic Cell Travel

Brain cells being studied for effects of gravity as they orbit the Earth

04 October 2019

Intergalactic Cell Travel

In one giant leap for cell biology, a SpaceX rocket flew a shoe-box sized laboratory containing living human brain and immune cells to the International Space Station this summer. The mission aims to understand not only how microgravity affects astronauts’ immune systems, but also how our immune cells play a role in disease back down on Earth. The cells were grown from stem cells taken from the skin of people with Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. It’s thought that these conditions are partly caused by overactivation of the brain’s immune cells, called microglia (pictured). Up on the Space Station, the microglia are held inside a 'CubeLab', which films how they grow and interact over time. The cells are expected to form small balls that behave like miniature organs. This novel experiment could inform the future development of treatments for neurodegenerative diseases or ways to protect astronauts during long-term flights.

Today marks the start of World Space Week

Written by Deborah Oakley

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