STOCKHOLM – Efforts are underway to examine how the space environment can negatively impact astronauts’ immune systems. And a team of scientists from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden has discovered new facts.
As compiled by Spaceon Friday (9/01/2023), scientists concluded that the microgravity experienced by space explorers could affect astronauts’ immune systems.
Specifically, the immunity affected are T cells, where these T cells are a type of white blood cell, called lymphocytes, whose function is very important for the body to be able to fight disease attacks.
It is said that the prolonged influence of microgravity may cause T cells to become less active and less effective at fighting infections, making astronauts susceptible to viruses.
“If astronauts want to have safe space missions, we need to understand how their immune system is affected and try to find ways to combat these dangerous changes,” said Lisa Westerberg, one of the scientists.
“We can now study what happens to T cells, which are a key component of the immune system, when exposed to weightlessness,” he continued.
In conducting the research, Westerberg and his team used a specially made water mattress to trick the body into thinking it was weightless, a technique called dry immersion.
Eight healthy subjects were placed in dry immersion for 3 weeks. The researchers subsequently performed blood tests on these subjects at different intervals.
The team performed advance calculations before the experiment, then seven, 14 and 21 days after the experiment began, and finally one week after the experiment ended.
As a result, they found that the subjects’ T cells had changed in relation to dry immersion, essentially changing significantly in terms of gene expression after 7 and 14 days of weightlessness.
The most extreme changes occurred after 14 days. The T cell genes appeared to adopt an immature state during the process, meaning they behaved as if they had not encountered the virus.
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