Humans were designed to live on Earth. Travelling to space poses a challenge for our DNA. "Exposures to the environment beyond the atmosphere such as microgravity and ionizing radiation can cause gene instability, which can have profound effects on human health. It is also associated with functional changes that may affect various diseases. This includes cancer. Patsy McDonald is the co-author of the scientific experiment that was sent into space last Friday. This miniature laboratory was built aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft as part of Axiom-1, which is the first private trip to orbit the International Space Station (ISS). It is hoped that astronauts will be able to receive preventive therapy before they travel, to reduce gene damage.
McDonald's co-founders, Cadw Therapeutics, and associate members at the Moffitt American Cancer Center are Derek Duckett and McDonald's partner Derek McDonald. They have been studying for years the role played by beta-arrestin1 in chronic stress-induced DNA damages (such as those suffered by astronauts in orbit). They explain that their research has shown that cells can be more resilient to stressors and have less DNA damage if they remove the beta-arrestin1 gene. Crew Dragon's experiment aims to take this step further and see if astronauts could be protected against the harsh space environment by removing the beta-arrestin 1 gene.
The experiment is composed of two compartments each with three cameras. One compartment contains normal cells, while the other contains cells containing the beta-arrestin-1 gene. Because each compartment contains three chambers, it is possible to check for differences in results among the same cells. SpacePharma in Israel has created a miniature laboratory system that can work in space microgravity and acts as an incubator. It houses the chip. It is fully automated and can keep cells alive while they are on the International Space Station. But, what's more, it can also be remotely monitored from Earth.
"The experiment will remain on the International Space Station for ten days, and all cells will be exposed the same stressors. Duckett says that when the spacecraft returns to Earth, it will be brought back to the laboratory. We can confirm our hypothesis that the deletion of beta-arrestin1 gene protects cells from damage in space.
This validation will open the door to future research on safety measures for travel to space. This is a critical aspect of the future of space tourism.
Patsy McDonald's and Derek Duckett were both raised by Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, who was a Nobel laureate for his pioneering work in cell-surface receptor signaling. In which beta-arrestin1 plays a crucial role, Modrich and Lefkowitz are Nobel laureates. These scientists were the ones who first began investigating the role of beta-1 in chronic stress-induced DNA destruction.