Since the first space travel that took place in 1960 as the Apollo mission, the negative impact of space flights on the immune system of a person is under the speculation of researchers and scientists.
Space Flight And Immune System
It has been found out in a new study that the reduced gravity in space causes the malfunctioning of the immune system, which can compromise the immune response of an individual.
This study can help in developing a method that will deal with immune system malfunction during prolonged space missions.
The first study:
The first female astronaut to be carried out a relevant study was Dr. Millie Hughes Fulford until her death in February 2021.
She and her team of researchers at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) and Stanford University studied the role of regulatory T cells (Tregs) in the malfunctioning of the immune system during space travels.
Space researchers are aware of the fact that exposure to microgravity or weak gravity can severely impact a person’s health.
The astronauts of the Apollo mission experienced a number of serious medical conditions upon their return to earth.
Within a week of completing their mission, more than half of the astronauts caught a cold and a variety of other infections.
Some of the most prevalent medical complaints of these astronauts were inner ear disturbance, low blood pressure, arrhythmia, activation of the chickenpox virus, loss of bone calcium, and dehydration.
Inspired by the observation the scientists undertook researches to understand the effect of gravity in the immune system of an individual.
Altered functionality of Tregs in space:
Regulating the immune response in the body is attributed to the Tregs, and often times followed by an infection they can subdue the immune system of the body.
Tregs are also associated with processes like oral tolerance, owing to which the immune system does not respond to any orally administered antigen like food.
Tregs also play a vital role in maintaining resistance to infections, allergy sensitivities, and immune memory.
The role of monitoring of transplantation tolerance is also controlled by Tregs, owing to which, the immune system does not attack any transplanted tissue in the self-body.
According to the findings of the latest study, space flights can activate the Tregs thereby subduing the immune system of the body before any actual threat is posed to an individual.
To understand the effect of gravity on one’s immune system, blood samples were collected from eight healthy individuals and exposed to microgravity to replicate its effect on the immune system.
This study was aimed at getting a greater insight into cellular interaction and the effect of microgravity on the immune response.
For the purpose of the samples were loaded into a machine built by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The machine was called the Rotating Wall Vessel, which exposed the blood samples to microgravity or 1 gravity, that we experience on earth, for a duration of 18 hours.
Single-cell analysis was used by the researchers to identify a single cell by type of order and study the protein involved in the immune function.
The researchers observed that the lower gravity seemingly triggered a multicellular response that lowered the body’s response to pathogens.
Moreover when two pathogens were introduced to the immune system of the body, to mimic the effect of an antigen, and it was observed that the immune system was dampened before it could react to the antigen.
Implications of the study:
Some of the long and short-term health risks endured by the astronauts during space travel are reduced immune response, increased viral shedding, and pathogen activity.
Some concerns that the experts have about space travel is that the commercialization of space travel will lead to many older and less healthy individuals taking on the travel, and the medical issues can become further severe for them.