Could the Key to New MS Treatments Be in Outer Space?

Like a sci-fi novel, MS research is going on at the International Space Station

Ed Tobias avatar

by Ed Tobias |

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As you read this, a group of scientists is doing multiple sclerosis (MS) research high above the earth. Their laboratory is in orbit about 250 miles up, aboard the International Space Station.

Working with researchers at the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF), astronauts have been helping with a study about how astrocytes — cells that hold other cells together in the central nervous system — can be manipulated to halt or prevent neurodegeneration. To do this, they’re using cells that have been launched to the space station aboard an uncrewed SpaceX rocket.

Researchers are studying organoids, which are cells that have been reprogramed to mimic brain cells, along with microglia, which are immune cells in the brain that likely play a role in nerve destruction. The hope is that this research will lead to earlier diagnosis of MS and other diseases of the nervous system, as well as to new stem cell and drug therapies.

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Why research in space?

Cells act differently in the microgravity of outer space.

“You can simulate microgravity in a laboratory by centrifuge, but those cells are confused,” National Stem Cell Foundation CEO Paula Grisanti told SpaceNews. “And if you’re looking under a microscope on Earth, they’re slightly flattened.” In space, researchers can watch the cells interact in 3D.

The cells sent to the space station are harvested from MS and Parkinson’s disease patients and kept in a small container on the space station called a CubeLab. This allows the cells to be analyzed remotely from Earth. NYSCF researcher Davide Marotta calls the cube “incredible,” adding that it’s “like a full lab in a small cube.”

After a month in orbit, the cells are frozen and sent back to Earth on a return SpaceX flight for further analysis.

Final phase 

A SpaceX launch later this year will be the last of four missions to the space station for this project. According to NYSCF Senior Research Investigator Valentina Fossati, this final phase will include studying druglike compounds that might affect nerve-destroying microglia cells and halt the process of neuroinflammation that is typical in MS.

“While the effort is complex, our goal is simple: to continue the work of changing lives and futures through adult stem cell and regenerative medicine research,” the National Stem Cell Foundation’s Grisanti added in a press release last July.

The NYSCF expects to publish its initial findings this year. A finding that would bring us closer to attacking nerve degeneration and inflammation would certainly be out of this world.

You’re invited to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Comments

Judy Slater avatar

Judy Slater

Thank you Ed for your insightful articles. I always enjoy reading them, especially those that give us hope. I was diagnosed 12 years ago at age 56.

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Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hi Judy,

Thanks so much for taking the time to drop a line. Comments like yours really make my day.

Ed

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איריס פרסקי avatar

איריס פרסקי

Dear Ed, I would like to know regarding to my son who was diagnosed several years ago with MS and who was given Vumerity for two years and stopped as his blood count was low, and was asked by the neuroimunology doctor to do an MRI test as well as other tests, otherise he will not be able to get another medication, but my son refuses to have the tests mainly MRI, what can be done about it. I am very worried as he doesnt have another medication and he cannot walk and has all symptoms of the disease, is it right not to give him a try of another medication? i am very worried. can you plse advise? thanxs Iris Prusky

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Ed Tobias avatar

Ed Tobias

Hello Iris,

I'm not a healthcare professional but, as someone who has lived with MS for 42 years, I firmly believe that MRIs are a very useful tool for both diagnosis and following the course of the illness. They give the neurologist the ability to see where the MS is attacking the central nervous system and how quickly this is happening. There are many treatment for MS and Vumerity is only one. Some work better than others. Some work for some people and not for others. I believe it's important to treat MS with a disease-modifying treatment to keep it from progressing and an MRI, and other tests, will help the neurologist decide which is the most effective one to use.

I don't usually do this, but I want to suggest you take a look at a small book that I wrote called "The Multiple Sclerosis Toolbox." It's available on Amazon and it give a lot of detail about MRIs, other tests and the various MS medications and you might find it useful to read.

I hope your son does well.

Ed

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