Discovering the effects of micro-gravity on blood cells: the goal of the SERISM project

27 October 2016 - In May 2017, with the NASA and ASI space mission called Expedition 52-53, a research project will also take off towards the International Space Station UCBM to discover the effects of micro-gravity on blood cells. On the spaceship that will take off from NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the direction of the International Space Station, there will be just the blood of the professor. Mauro MaccarroneProfessor of Biochemistry at theUniversità Campus Bio-Medico di Roma. On board, there will be a special machine equipped with eight containers with its blood samples, various compounds and all the necessary technology to understand how micro-gravity changes the characteristics of human bone cells.

The Italian astronaut will also be part of the trip Paul Nespoli. And he will probably be the one to start the procedure for activating the micro-pistons and cylinders of the equipment, which will inject – with an automatic process at pre-programmed times on the ground by the researchers – various compounds in the blood present in the containers. At the end, everything will be 'frozen' below zero, so that the snapshots that photograph the changes undergone by the blood cells over the weeks in space can be observed and analyzed by scientists on Earth. An analysis that will therefore show the progress over time of the effects of micro-gravity on blood cells. Objective: to find confirmations on the origin of osteoporosis so that it can be treated and, above all, prevented.

The SERISM project it also sees the University of Tor Vergata and that of Teramo among the partners involved, as well as NASA and ESA. As explained by Prof. Maccarrone, principal investigator of SERISM, “the primary purpose of the experiment is to address the problem of the weakening of the human skeletal system in an innovative way". An issue that primarily affects astronauts, whose bones, after a few months in zero gravity, lose bone density significantly.

However, the research will not be limited to astronauts, but it will also aim to find new ways to fight osteoporosis: that process which, partly due to the decrease in limb movement stimuli, partly due to problems in the functioning of particular regulatory molecules, the "endocannabinoids", generates a lack of bone 'material' in the skeletal system after the age of 50. The idea is to identify the "signals" responsible for bone weakening, the endocannabinoids, and exploit them in space - as never before - to better understand the mechanism of the pathology.

In this sense, space will act as an accelerator of cellular processes: as for other cases, it will offer the possibility to evaluate and 'photograph' molecular modifications and alterations that occur much more slowly on Earth as age progresses.