Cancer cells will be heading to space as part of a UK scientific experiment to understand more about an incurable childhood tumour.
Researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research in the England are sending samples of diffuse midline glioma to the International Space Station (ISS) to see how it spreads in microgravity.
The scientists said their study – dubbed D(MG)2 – could pave the way to understanding more about the disease that led to the death of Karen Armstrong, the daughter of late US astronaut Neil Armstrong.
Chris Jones, leader of the D(MG)2 study and professor of Childhood Cancer Biology at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: “Unfortunately, survival rates for patients with diffuse midline glioma have not changed substantially since Neil Armstrong’s daughter died of the disease in the early sixties.
“The last 15 years, however, have revolutionised our understanding of the biological complexity of these tumours, with exciting potential new therapies entering clinical trial at last.
“Experiments such as D(MG)2 aboard the International Space Station will improve our understanding of how cancer cells interact with each other within three-dimensional structures, and hopefully lead to new ideas for disrupting tumour growth that we can take forward back in the lab.”
Diffuse midline glioma is an aggressive and incurable brain tumour that most commonly presents in children.
It has a poor prognosis – most children die within 18 months of being diagnosed.
The researchers want the experiments to be conducted in microgravity because they believe the conditions will allow their 3D cultures to grow to much larger sizes than on Earth.
This will allow much larger extensive models in which to study how cancer cells interact – as this interaction is thought to drive growth, the team said.
While microgravity can be recreated on Earth, Prof Jones said the conditions “can induce some mechanical stress on the cells which may change how they behave, which we want to avoid”.
The launch is expected to take place in 2025, and experiments will be conducted by astronauts on board, with samples expected to be returned to Earth about six months later.