Human Heart Cells Beat Differently in Microgravity, Which May Benefit Astronauts

Rodiano Bonacci
Novembre 7, 2019

Now iPS-derived human heart muscle cells called cardiomyocytes have found their way into space, as part of a study by cardiologist and stem cell researcher Joseph Wu, MD, PhD, graduate student Alexa Wnorowski and former Stanford graduate student Arun Sharma, PhD.

But just 10 days after being returned to Earth, the heart cells returned to normal. This includes physiological changes in cardiac function, such as reduced heart rate, lowered arterial pressure and increased cardiac output. "Microgravity is an environment that is not very well understood, in terms of its overall effect on the human body, and studies like this could help shed light on how the cells of the body behave in space, especially as the world embarks on more and longer space missions such as going to the moon and Mars". Relatively little is known about the role of microgravity in influencing human cardiac function at the cellular level. Wu's team included NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, who did graduate work at Stanford before tending to the cells in orbit. However, Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of NASA announced on Thursday that Akihiko Hoshide, the Japanese astronaut will be making way for an American space flier on the Russian Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft when it carries a fresh batch of astronauts to the International Space Station next year. Simultaneously, ground control hiPSC-CMs were cultured on Earth for comparison purposes. However, they did adapt by modifying their beating pattern and calcium recycling patterns. "Our study was the first conducted on the station that used human iPS technology, and demonstrated that it is possible to conduct long-term, human cell-based experiments in space". A comparison of the samples revealed that hiPSC-CMs adopt a unique gene expression pattern during spaceflight, which reverts to one that is similar to groundside controls upon return to normal gravity.

"We're surprised about how quickly human heart muscle cells are able to adapt to the environment in which they are placed, including microgravity", Wu said.

"These studies may provide insight into cellular mechanisms that could benefit astronaut health during long-duration spaceflight, or potentially lay the foundation for new insights into improving heart health on Earth", Wu said in a journal news release. "We also plan to test different treatments on the human heart cells to determine if we can prevent some of the changes the heart cells undergo during spaceflight", Wu says.

During an interview hosted by Spaceflight Now on the grounds of the Washington DC's International Astronautical Congress Bridenstine stated that maintaining U.S. access to the space station is of utmost importance, as NASA is set to move from its reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft in the near future to using a balanced squadron of three human-rated vehicles, being the Russian Soyuz, Boeing Starliner, and the SpaceX Crew Dragon.

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