A rocket destined for the International Space Station (ISS), scheduled for launch on Friday from Cape Canaveral in Florida, will be carrying a tiny but important payload from Danish scientists: cancer cells.
Matchbox-sized packages containing six million cells from a thyroid cancer patient will be sent into space to continue research on the effects of weightlessness on the cells.
“We have found that exposing cancer cells to simulated weightlessness in our underground laboratories causes the cancer cells to become fragile and destroy themselves,” researcher Thomas Juhl Corydon, from the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University, told Politiken newspaper. “We want to analyse what happens when cancer cells reside in a weightless environment for several days.”
The cells will be kept alive on the ISS for ten days, after which astronauts on the mission will kill them with chemicals.
“This will give us a snapshot of the condition of the cells after ten days of weightlessness,” said Corydon.
Researchers hope the experiment will reveal weaknesses in the cells that could lead to the development of new cancer treatments.
“The goal of our research is not that cancer patients should be sent into space for cancer treatment, but to find what makes the cells vulnerable when they are weightless so that we can develop treatments that work here on earth,” said Croydon.