Space may be the “final frontier,” but we’re still far away from reaping its whole harvest. Indeed, the distant discoveries of outer space continue to pay major dividends here at home. Take senior healthcare, for example.
The Washington Post recently reported on scientist Millie Hughes-Fulford, who is currently conducting remote experiments aboard the International Space Station, more than 200 miles above the Earth.
Specifically, Hughes-Fulford is studying the behavior of cells in zero gravity, observations she hopes to apply in developing new treatments for age-related illnesses in our world.
It all started when she came to the brilliant realization one day that senior citizens are lot like astronauts. How’s that, you ask?
Well when astronauts are in space, zero gravity has a curious effect on their immune systems. Their T-cells (responsible for motivating the body’s immune responses) are about half as active in space as they would be on Earth. That means the astronauts have a harder time fighting against illness and infection — but only while they’re in space.
Back here at home, meanwhile, the elderly endure a similar compromise in T-cell activity. The difference, of course, is that zero gravity clearly isn’t to blame in their case, as gravity affects the elderly on Earth just like the rest of us.
But understanding how zero gravity alters otherwise young and healthy adults’ T-cells could lead to a major breakthrough in understanding the vulnerabilities of the human immune system.
Ultimately, Hughes-Fulford hopes her space experiments will lead directly to new and improved treatment for age-related illness on Earth. Fascinating! Sometimes the best ideas are the ones that are simply out of this world!