A new study shows how microgravity alters human heart muscle cells in space and helps astronauts prepare better for long-term missions to Mars and beyond.
It is known that spaceflight the human body in a variety of ways. This includes physiological changes in cardiac function, such as As reduced heart rate, decreased arterial pressure and increased cardiac output.
Using stem cell human heart muscle cells, researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine investigated more closely how microgravity affects human heart function and gene expression at the cellular level.
Related: From radiation to isolation: 5 major risks to Marsastronauts (videos)
"Our study is new because it is the first human-induced pluripotent strain uses cells to study the effects of spaceflight on human cardiac function, "said Joseph C. Wu, senior study author of Stanford University School of Medicine, in the statement . Wu's team included NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, who earned her doctorate in Stanford before taking care of the cells in orbit.
In particular, researchers used human-induced pluripotent cardiomyocytes derived from stem cells generated by isolation and reprogramming of blood cells on board a SpaceX cargo pod to the space station, the statement said. The cells spent 5.5 weeks on the space station while simultaneously examining a control group of cells on the earth.
"Microgravity is an environment that is not well understood in terms of its overall effect on the human body," Wu said in the statement. "Studies such as these could shed light on how the cells of the body behave in space, especially as the world continues to undertake ever-increasing space missions, such as the Moon and Mars."
When the cells returned to Earth from the space station, the cells showed a normal structure, but seemed to have changed their impact pattern and calcium recycling pattern to adapt the microgravity environment of space the researchers said.
The team also used RNA sequencing to study gene expression in the cells that were sent into space. Their results suggest that 2,635 genes were expressed at different rates during and after space flight compared to the soil control group.
In addition, researchers found that mitochondrial function gene pathways were more highly expressed in the group of cells sent to the space station. However, ten days after the return to normal gravity on Earth, relatively normal patterns of gene expression reappeared in space-swept cells, the researchers said.
"We are surprised at how quickly human heart muscle cells can adapt to the environment they are in, including microgravity," Wu said in the statement. "These studies could provide insights into cellular mechanisms that could improve astronauts' health on long-range space flights, or lay the groundwork for new insights to improve heart health on Earth."
The results were ] published on November 7 in the journal Stem Cell Reports.