(Image: Red and white blood cell via electron microscope. Credit: NCI-Frederick, via ABC.net.au)
Despite the fact that it was common knowledge (at least among scientists) that micro gravity tends to have a nasty side effect upon bones and muscles, now it seems that researchers have discovered that our immune system can suffer as well.
(MSNBC) Scientists conducted an experiment with mice that simulated zero-gravity on the ground and showed that a protein called osteopontin, a stress hormone connected with bone loss in space, may also be connected with the dangerous wasting of the spleen and thymus organs.
These immune system organs create white bloods cells that battle infections — without them, the body would be open season for disease. […]
Although Denhardt isn’t uncertain how the process works, his team found that lifting up mice’s hind legs–a stressful simulation of weightlessness — for three days caused about a 70 percent reduction in spleen and thymus tissue, compared to normal mice. The breaking down of organ tissue, called atrophy, also occurred in mice that were stressed out due to isolation.
What makes this news even more alarming is the fact that some bacteria seem to be more resistant to antibiotics while exposed to micro gravity.
Scientists will hopefully develop new drugs to encourage our immune system to thrive in weightlessness, otherwise we may have to construct orbital space stations in order to survive among the heavens above.