Immune health in space

December 4, 2018, Louisiana State University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

With a new crew arriving at the International Space Station, astronauts will be relieved to know that they won't have to worry about a major aspect of their immune system being compromised. While researchers know a lot about astronauts' skeletal and muscular health during spaceflight and when they return to Earth, much less is known about how spaceflight affects immunity. It has been generally thought, until now, that spaceflight has a detrimental impact on all aspects of the immune system.

"Long-duration orbital spaceflights are associated with increased levels of psychological stress, acute and chronic exposure to space radiation and microgravity-induced changes, all of which are known to detrimentally impact the immune system. However, the effects of on B-cell immunity—a major arm of the immune system—has remained unclear," said Guillaume Spielmann, LSU School of Kinesiology assistant professor and co-author of a new study on spaceflight's effects on a major part of the immune system.

The successful implementation of exploration-class missions to Mars or other near-Earth objects requires a better understanding of the impact of long-duration spaceflight on the immune system in order to evaluate the risks of adverse health events associated with immune dysregulations for the crew.

Until now, due to spaceflight's logistical constraints, the majority of space immunology has been conducted during short-duration missions or by comparing pre- to post-flight measures of immune function. Last week, Spielmann and University of Bath Department for Health's John Campbell published their results from a long duration spaceflight study that aimed to shed light on any alterations in human B-cell function in astronauts who lived on the International Space Station, or ISS, for 6 months.

B-cells are an essential type of white blood cells responsible for producing antibodies that will target harmful pathogens. Optimal B-cell immunity is crucial to ensure long-term protection against disease-causing bacteria and viruses and is the cornerstone of vaccine efficacy.

"This is the first study to comprehensively show that long-duration spaceflight in human astronauts has limited effect on B-cell frequency and antibody production," Campbell said.

Blood samples were collected from astronauts before, during and after 6 months living on the ISS. The results suggest that B-cell immune competency was unaffected by time spent on the ISS. These findings may support the use of in-flight vaccine-based countermeasures to protect astronauts from immune dysregulation and symptomatic latent viral reactivations that are known to occur in longer duration missions, such as eventual travel to Mars.

This study provides novel insights on B-cell immunity during a 6-month in the ISS. The team behind it suggest future studies are still required to ensure that ' ability to produce functional antibodies will remain unaltered during longer missions.

This paper is published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Explore further: Astronauts collect blood for immune study

More information: Guillaume Spielmann et al. B-cell homeostasis is maintained during long duration spaceflight, Journal of Applied Physiology (2018). DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00789.2018

Related Stories

The immune system in space

June 1, 2017

Getting sick when you're far from home is a drag. You'd give anything to crawl into your own soft bed and sleep, but you're stuck in a cookie-cutter hotel room feeling like a sick fish out of water. Well, it could be worse.

Study examines effects of spaceflight on immune system

April 5, 2017

Getting sick isn't fun for anyone, but it could be especially taxing for crew members aboard the International Space Station. Protecting crew health is important as NASA prepares for long duration, deep-space missions. Functional ...

Study Suggests Spaceflight May Decrease Human Immunity

September 30, 2004

A NASA-funded study has found the human body's ability to fight off disease may be decreased by spaceflight. The effect may even linger after an astronaut's return to Earth following long flights. In addition to the conditions ...

Recommended for you

NASA's Voyager 2 probe enters interstellar space

December 10, 2018

For the second time in history, a human-made object has reached the space between the stars. NASA's Voyager 2 probe now has exited the heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the ...

Team finds evidence for carbon-rich surface on Ceres

December 10, 2018

A team led by Southwest Research Institute has concluded that the surface of dwarf planet Ceres is rich in organic matter. Data from NASA's Dawn spacecraft indicate that Ceres's surface may contain several times the concentration ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rrwillsj
not rated yet Dec 04, 2018
This is good news for long-duration Manned Space Flight. However, this is only one study of biological functions in Space environments.

One possible contribution to the astronauts health? Before flight to the space station, the crews spend time in isolation.

Separate from all the germy, snot-nosed children. Who are living incubators for a host of infections. Spreading contagions through older siblings, parents, parent's friends, co-workers, neighbors & caretakers.

Especially as so many gullible parents, believe anti-science propaganda spread on Faux News & internet woo-sites by fakir quacks.

Refusing to have their children inoculated against preventable diseases.

I blame the in-laws. When for what ever reason a child has handicap or is mentally deficient? The in-laws, without hesitation, automatically blame the other parent's bloodline.

Trying to hold their marriage together, the parents accept the falsehoods of the woomerchants and their cults of death.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.