In general, astronauts have generally dealt with being sick after returning to Earth, with space travel having a negative impact on their immune systems.
Now scientists have discovered why.
A new study, published in Scientific reports, notes that regular T cells (Tregs) experience an “abnormal activation” during space travel.
Tregs are generally activated to slow down immune responses after an infection is no longer a threat, but in weak gravity [microgravity] conditions of the room, the opposite happens — Tregs are activated even when no infection is present.
The researchers simulated an immune response by a chemical that has been used to mimic a pathogen in blood samples, and they eventually found that the Tregs started to activate.
‘We found that remarkable’ [simulated microgravity] enhanced STAT5 signaling responses of immunosuppressive Tregs,” the researchers wrote in the study summary. ‘Our results suggest’ [microgravity] exerts a dual effect on the human immune system, while simultaneously dampening cytotoxic responses and enhancing Treg function.”
“In the past in the space program most astronauts were young and extremely healthy, but now they tend to train a lot more and are older,” said the study’s lead author, Jordan Spatz, PhD, a space scientist and medical student at the University. of California in San Francisco , said in a statement.
“In addition, aside from astronauts, with the commercialization of spaceflight, there will be many more elderly and less healthy individuals experiencing microgravity,” Spatz continued. “From a space medicine perspective, we see that microgravity does a lot of bad things to the human body, and we hope to have the opportunity to mitigate some of the effects of microgravity during space travel.”
Astronauts suffer from weakened immune systems after returning to Earth due to ‘abnormally’ active regular T cells
The researchers simulated an immune response, using a chemical to mimic a pathogen in blood samples and found that the Tregs started to activate
The new research continues that of Millie Hughes-Fulford, one of the first female astronauts. Hughes-Fulford studied the impact of microgravity on health, prior to her death in February 2021
Spatz’s work continues that of Millie Hughes-Fulford, one of the first female astronauts.
Hughes-Fulford studied the impact of microgravity on health prior to her death in February 2021, after losing a battle with leukemia.
A number of Apollo astronauts suffered from colds or other infections, with some of them experiencing a reactivation of dormant viruses, such as chickenpox.
Early Apollo astronauts experienced other limitations, such as inner ear disorders, heart rhythm disturbances, low blood pressure, dehydration and loss of calcium in their bones.
After Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin returned to Earth, they went into quarantine for three weeks for fear they would bring back pathogens from the moon.
DailyMail.com has contacted NASA with a request for comment on this study.
In March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Aldrin spoke about his time during quarantine and tweeted that he spent his time writing mission reports, holding debriefs and exercises.
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin tweeted he would be quarantined after returning from the moon over concerns he and the other astronauts would bring back pathogens from the moon
“It’s a double whammy,” said study co-author Brice Gaudilliere, MD, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Anesthesia at Stanford University School of Medicine. ‘There is a dampening of the immune activation reactions of T lymphocytes, but also an exacerbation of the immunosuppressive reactions by Tregs.’
The study’s findings come right after burgeoning space tourism begins to take shape and concerns about the health of space travelers make their way into society’s lexicon.
On Monday, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Blue Origin, announced that he and his brother Mark will fly to the edge of space next month, defeating rivals Richard Branson and Elon Musk.
Separately, the bid to be the first paying customer of Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft was $3 million Monday, and the auction is set to end later this month.
Six passengers, including Bezos and his brother, will float in weightlessness for at least 10 minutes before returning to Earth on the July 20 flight.
The space tourism industry is expected to be worth $23 billion by 2030, CNBC reported in 2019, citing research from investment bank UBS.
HOW DID SCOTT CHANG KELLY’S DNA IN SPACE?
Astronauts suffer mysterious mutations in their DNA after just a year in space, and this could help reverse important aging processes.
This is according to the first results of NASA’s groundbreaking ‘Twins Study’ that looked at the difference between astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly.
While Scott Kelly lived aboard the International Space Station for 340 days, his identical twin, Mark, remained on Earth.
Scott Kelly (right), who spent 340 days aboard the International Space Station, is pictured next to his identical twin brother Mark (left) who remained on Earth
Of the many findings to date, the study has shown that:
- Scott’s telomeres – the caps at the end of each chromosome – grew longer in space
- Telomeres are key to protecting DNA from damage and tend to shorten with age
- Interestingly, Scott’s telomeres shortened again when he was back on Earth
- NASA says Scott’s lengthening telomeres are linked to his diet and exercise routine at the station
- The ratio of two groups of gut bacteria shifted while Scott was in space, probably as a result of his change in diet
- His gut bacteria returned to normal when he was back on Earth.
- NASA research has discovered hundreds of diverse genetic mutations in the genomes of Scott and Mark.
- The research team speculates that a ‘space gene’ may have been activated while Scott was in orbit