Amphibians and Astronaut Antibodies
"We hope to find efficient pharmacological and/or nutritional countermeasures to alterations of the immune system that could be useful to astronauts and to people who have weak immune systems on Earth because of infections, aging, or chronic stress exposure," said Jean-Pol Frippiat, a researcher involved in the work from the Faculty of Medicine, Development and Immunogenetics at the Université Henri Poincaré-Nancy, Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy, France.
To make their discovery, Frippiat and colleagues conducted studies using three groups of amphibians. Amphibians were chosen for the work because they use the same cellular mechanisms to produce antibodies as humans do. The first group of amphibians was immunized in space, the second was immunized on Earth, and the third was not immunized at all. Comparison of the antibodies produced revealed that the quality of the antibodies generated by the group immunized in space was decreased. This suggests that spaceflight conditions alter the immune system and affect its ability to protect against infections and tumors, posing a serious risk for astronauts.
"Outer space may be the final frontier, but this research shows that our inner space could pose the greatest threat to the success of a mission," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal. "These explorers will have to be prepared not only for the challenges of extremely hostile environments, but also those posed by microbial stowaways, even those with which we peacefully co-exist on Earth."