MAY 28, 2023 6:00 AM PDT

Axiom-2 Mission Tasked with Testing UC San Diego Cancer Drugs and Stem Cell Research

The Axiom-2 mission is currently docked at the International Space Station (ISS) and due to return to Earth on May 31. Axiom-2 is not only the second private mission to the ISS, but it's also taking part in several science experiments, one of which is to test nanobioreactor experiments from the UC San Diego Sanford Stem Cell Institute, which will study how the microgravity environment impacts human stem cell inflammation, cancer, and aging.

UC San Diego Sanford Stem Cell Institute researchers evaluating cell samples after they have returned from space. (Credit: UC San Diego Health Sciences)

Since the dawn of the space age, scientists have learned that microgravity causes a myriad of both short-and long-term health issues ranging from bodily fluid relocation to slower heart rate to aging. Better understanding how microgravity impacts an astronaut’s health will help scientists make better informed decisions when we start sending astronauts to the Moon and Mars.

Scientists at UC San Diego will examine astronauts’ blood stem cells before, during and after spaceflight. (Credit: UC San Diego Health Sciences)

“Space is a uniquely stressful environment,” said Dr. Catriona Jamieson, who is a professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, Koman Family Presidential Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at UC San Diego Health, and director of the Sanford Stem Cell Institute. “By conducting these experiments in low Earth orbit, we are able to understand mechanisms of cancer evolution in a compressed time frame and inform the development of new cancer stem cell inhibitory strategies.”

Along with better understanding how astronauts respond to microgravity, the findings from these experiments also hold the potential to develop improved predictive models and better medicines—both here and in space—in the fight against numerous cancers, including breast and colorectal cancer, leukemia, and immune dysfunction-related diseases.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity with our private astronaut missions to advance this important work, aligned with the White House Cancer Moonshot initiatives,” said Christian Maender, executive vice president of in-space solutions at Axiom Space. “Our mission is to improve life on Earth and foster the possibilities beyond by building and operating the world’s first commercial space station. Together with the Sanford Stem Cell Institute team, we are building history.” 

This research builds off previous stem cell research conducted on the ISS that identified elevated amounts of pre-cancerous markers after only one month in space. Follow-up studies include a longitudinal study designed to monitor long-term impacts on stem cells of astronauts.

What new discoveries will scientists make about stem cells, cancer, and the impacts of long-term spaceflight on human health? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

Sources: UC San Diego Today

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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