Revealing Astronauts’ Hidden Secrets through Blood Analysis

Astronauts must be healthy. It’s a requirement of the job. To avoid illness and mission failure, they quarantine before launch. They work and live in antiseptic conditions overhead.

Some suffer viral flare-ups or rashes in space. Odette Laneuville, an expert in molecular biology at the University of Ottawa, found it puzzling and began to wonder about the reason they get sick up there.

Hypothesis and Research

In a Frontiers in Immunology paper, Laneuville and her colleagues propose that it may be owing to the lower activation of 100 immune-related genes, which allow opportunistic infections to get a foothold.

Experts say understanding what makes astronauts more susceptible to infections could make space journeys safer and enhance immunocompromised care on Earth.

Even when we feel okay, Laneuville states our bodies harbor many viruses and bacteria.

However, stress or immune system dysregulation can trigger infections from viruses and bacteria. Laneuville suspected something in space was changing the gene activity of immune cells in astronaut blood, permitting these opportunistic illnesses.

She and her colleagues recruited 14 American and Canadian astronauts to spend several months on the International Space Station on different dates.

Before and after their missions here on Earth, as well as while they were in space, Laneuville had blood drawn. The 10-minute land procedure took 90 minutes in orbit.

The samples were collected over five years on various visits to the International Space Station.


This rare blood revealed space reduces 100 immune-related genes and may be caused by stress. The alternative, according to Laneuville, is “those genes react to a drop in gravitational pressure.”

In microgravity, astronauts’ blood moves from their legs to their torsos and heads. It’s unsettling. Their body reduces fluid by 15% to fix it. That suggests too many immune cells are in this tiny blood.

Laneuville thinks gene activity reduction eliminates the excess cells. This impacts the pathogen response by the immune system and would let viral, bacterial diseases spread to astronauts.

Once they land, the genes are turned back up and fluid levels normalize. For many genes, this reversal takes weeks rather than a year.

Experts think it will be tougher to return astronauts to Earth for rehabilitation or treatment, as we send them to the moon and Mars.

This article appeared in NewsHouse and has been published here with permission.

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Written by Western Reader

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