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Spaceflight & Immunity

June 17, 2010

Long-term space flight may compromise astronauts’ immune systems.


Immunity in space. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Astronauts’ immune systems may weaken in space. This according to University of Arizona immunologist Ty Lebsack. He and his colleagues studied mice that had been flown in space. Spaceflight appeared to alter the function of 12 genes in the thymus gland, which makes key immune cells called T cells.

TY LEBSACK (University of Arizona):
That’s how the T cell gets its name – T cell, from thymus – and it’s used to educate and manufacture T cells in the body.

Lebsack says the specific changes could make the thymus’ quality control system go overboard – killing off healthy T cells along with defective ones. Prior lab studies suggest that zero-gravity may have this effect. Although astronauts haven’t been especially sickness-prone so far, Lebsack says that could change as missions get much longer. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.