Kubik incubator

Finding the key to immunity

4 February 2013

Living in space weakens astronauts’ immune systems, researchers have discovered. The findings are providing clues on how to tackle diseases on Earth before symptoms appear.

Ever since the first humans ventured into space we have known that astronauts can suffer from common infections that would be quickly dealt with by healthy people on Earth. Until now, it was not clear what was blocking astronauts’ immune systems from working normally.

In 2006, ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter performed an experiment on the International Space Station using ESA’s Kubik space incubator. A batch of human immune cells was allowed to float in microgravity while another was held in a centrifuge to simulate gravity. The cells were preserved for analysis back on Earth.

The cells that experienced simulated gravity as if on Earth were found to be in good health compared to their weightless equivalents.

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