Cancer researchers looking for a breakthrough might want to relocate to the International Space Station. Biologists have found that microgravity research and other space-based experiments provide greater insight into abnormal cell behavior.
In Earth-bound labs, cells grow flat, unable to fully mimic the three-dimensional architecture shaped by proteins and carbohydrates of a working human organ. This gap provides an obstacle for scientists studying changes in cell growth and development.
In space, cells clump together easily, arranging themselves into three-dimensional groupings that better replicate cell activity. They also experience less fluid shear stress, a type of disturbance that affects their behavior outside of the body.
Many of the cells in space will likely die due to a lack of blood vessels providing necessary oxygen and nutrients. That might seem like a disadvantage, but it actually resembles the condition of tumors with areas of dead tissue at their centers, biologists say.
The Cellular Biotechnology Operations Support System (CBOSS-1-Ovarian) investigation, located aboard the space station, contains a cell incubator that grows 3-D clusters of cells. These structures have enhanced the ability of researchers to understand protein production, a key element of cell behavior.