Human cancer tissue tested in space


A study on the treatment of cancer in zero gravity has been selected by the United Nations and will be launched by a team of Belgian researchers on the future Chinese space station.

The Chinese space station is expected to be operational in 2024. And the list of the first ten international scientific investigations to be carried out on board has already been prepared. Among the hundreds of studies proposed around the world, the United Nations has chosen one by a Belgian team, called "Tumors in space".

This will be the first time that the evolution of cancerous human tissue is tested in space. As Sarah Baatout, Head of the Radiobiology Unit at SCK-CEN in Mol, explains, "We want to understand how to improve cancer treatments on Earth."

In practical terms, the behaviour of mini-tumours will be tested in a space environment. Placed in a zero gravity situation and bombarded by large doses of cosmic radiation, these tissues (called organoids because they represent the human anatomy in miniature) are expected to evolve differently than they would on our planet. According to the Belgian researcher, "Tumour tissue is generally harder than healthy tissue. By changing the environment and placing the tumour tissue in a zero gravity environment, the cells float more and change their behaviour."

For many experts, zero gravity should slow down the proliferation of cancer cells. And then we can perhaps hope to see them disappear thanks to future therapies based on zero gravity.