Space travel found to age immune system prematurely

3 Feb 2015

Space isn’t the healthiest place for the human body to be anyway, but new research has shown the immune system also ages at a much faster rate in space than on Earth.

As mankind attempts to loosen the shackles of its solitary ties with Earth, our bodies’ ability to withstand solar radiation and no gravity is often pushed to extreme limits when we attempt space travel.

Now, according to a research team from the Stress, Immunity and Pathogens Laboratory at Lorraine University in Vandoeuvre-lès-Nancy, France, our immune systems are just as susceptible to degradation as our eyes, heart and muscle mass.

The team, led by Jean-Pol Frippiat, placed mice in a low-gravity environment, where changes occurred in B lymphocyte production in their bone marrow, much like elderly mice that would be found here on Earth, according to Eurekalert.

This low-gravity experiment was achieved with the use of a ground-based model called hindlimb unloading (HU) which, given these findings, may actually have benefits for studies involving the elderly, not just in terms of future Mars colonists, but for learning more about the aging process of human bodies.

Speaking of the study, Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal, in which the research is published, said, “Getting to Mars and beyond promises to be a huge task, requiring contributions from almost every scientific discipline.

“For biologists and medical researchers, knowing how altered gravity affects our immune system from challenges aloft can be already be studied on Earth. Fortunately for biologists, it’s not rocket science.”

Space travel image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic