To get a better understanding of a type of uncurable childhood tumour, cancer cells will be flown into space. To study how diffuse midline glioma spreads in microgravity, researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research are sending samples of the disease to the International Space Station, according to SkyNews.
The majority of patients with diffuse midline glioma, a deadly and aggressive brain tumour that most frequently affects youngsters, pass away within 18 months of their diagnosis. Because the cancer is in sensitive areas of the brain, surgery is typically not an option, and chemotherapy has a limited impact. The only available treatment, radiotherapy, is exclusively applied as a palliative measure.
Karen Armstrong, the late American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s daughter and the first person to set foot on the moon in 1969, was one of the disease’s victims. Professor of Childhood Cancer Biology at The Institute Of Cancer Research in London and the D(MG)2 study’s principal investigator, Chris Jones, said, “Unfortunately, survival rates for patients with diffuse midline glioma have not changed substantially since Neil Armstrong’s daughter died of the disease in the early 1960s.
“The last 15 years, however, have revolutionised our understanding of the biological complexity of these tumours, with exciting potential new therapies entering clinical trial at last. Experiments such as D(MG)2 aboard the International Space Station will improve our understanding of how cancer cells interact with each other within three-dimensional structures, and hopefully lead to new ideas for disrupting tumour growth that we can take forward back in the lab.”
The scientists anticipate that their 3D cultures will be able to grow much larger in microgravity than they could on Earth, enabling them to examine the interactions of cancer cells using much larger models. It is possible to simulate microgravity on Earth, but according to Prof. Jones, doing so “may produce some mechanical stress on the cells which may modify how they behave – something we want to prevent.”
The UK government has contributed £1.2 million to the project. Another space-related study, directed by the University of Liverpool, received £1.4 million at the same time. The study MicroAge II looks at how astronauts’ muscles deteriorate in space due to microgravity.
Minister of state for the Department of Science, Innovation, and Technology George Freeman said, “Space is the ultimate laboratory testbed with British scientists and astronauts harnessing the International Space Station for cutting-edge research in nutrition, energy and biomedicine. This £2.6m project funding will help UK scientists research how to prevent brain tumours in children, and understand the biomedical processes of ageing: research with huge benefits for mankind and health systems around the world.”
According to Dr. Paul Bate, CEO of the UK Space Agency, “This ground-breaking research highlights the power of space to push through barriers, revolutionise science and enhance our lives. Through a combination of national funding and our vital role in the European Space Agency, we’re ensuring UK scientists have access to the unique environment of the ISS for their research, which will benefit us all.”
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