Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education



Front Page

World

UK

UK Politics

Business

Sci/Tech

Health

Education

Sport

Entertainment

Talking Point
On Air
Feedback
Low Graphics
Help

Tuesday, October 6, 1998 Published at 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK


Health

Growing cancer cells the space-age way

Healthy and malignant cells are put in a bioreactor

By our science editor, David Whitehouse

A special incubator designed to grow tissue samples in space is being used on Earth to help understand how breast cancer develops and provide clues about how its spread might be controlled.

Nasa scientists are growing healthy and cancerous cells in devices called bioreactors that fool the cells into believing they are in zero gravity.

Data from the experiments will help them learn what causes the growth of both healthy and malignant breast tissues.

Their findings could benefit women on Earth as well as women who may spend long periods in space, such as on a mission to Mars.

Beating malignancies

"We know that many things - radiation, certain chemicals, genetic makeup - can contribute to the cause of breast cancer," said Dr. Robert Richmond of Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Center.

"We are culturing noncancerous breast cells hoping to learn what controls their growth, and how we might use that knowledge to beat any malignancies before they are formed."


[ image: Space research could find a way to control the spread of cancerous cells]
Space research could find a way to control the spread of cancerous cells
Scientists are growing a type of breast cells which are found in women who are likely to develop breast cancer, most probably because of radiation damage.

They have known for some time that cells in zero gravity can grow in different ways than those grown on Earth.

To investigate this, Nasa has developed the bioreactor.

As it turns, the cells inside it continually fall yet never hit the bottom of the vessel, thus simulating zero gravity.

Bioreactors have already been used aboard the Mir space station to study breast and colon cancer cells.

More research is planned aboard the new International Space Station in a few years' time.

Radiation

Astronauts sent on long-distance space missions, especially those beyond the Moon, will be exposed to increasing levels of radiation.

What scientists learn from these cells could help in the selection of female astronauts for a future Mars mission.

It is estimated that the radiation damage a 30-year-old male astronaut might sustain during a trip to Mars would increase their risk of getting cancer by 8%.

Scientists believe this is unacceptably high and are trying to reduce it.

Because the cancer risks for women are projected to be substantially greater, mission planners are leaning towards all-male crews.

Since a Mars mission is at least 10-15 years away, it is possible that new insights into cancer from the bioreactor programme may help a female astronaut take her place on a mission to Mars.



Advanced options | Search tips




Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©


Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

01 Oct 98 | Health
Breast cancer vaccine on trial

23 Sep 98 | Medical notes
Breast cancer factfile

17 Sep 98 | Health
Chemotherapy that beats breast cancer

06 Aug 98 | Health
Better breast cancer screening 'could save lives'

09 Jul 98 | Health
Doubt cast on breast cancer wonder drug

03 Jul 98 | Health
Cash shortage threat to breast screening





Internet Links


Nasa

Cancer research campaign


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.




In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99