Immuno Profile: Staying healthy in space

Health Science

The Canadian Immuno Profile science project will be the first study to monitor astronauts' immune systems for the entire duration of their missions aboard the International Space Station (ISS). It will explore changes in immune hormones and white blood cells, the first line of defence against pathogens like bacteria and viruses.

Background

Living in space takes a toll on an astronaut's immune system. Many features of the environment, such as microgravity, higher radiation exposure, altered sleep cycles, and increased stress, can impact immunity. Even getting sick with a simple cold affects an astronaut's ability to concentrate on research and maintenance duties. Because of the close quarters aboard the ISS, infection can spread quickly between crewmembers.

Currently, blood samples taken for science experiments are being frozen for return to Earth at a later time. This storage process damages the delicate cells needed to study immunity. Therefore, experiments to date have only studied astronauts' immune systems before and after their flights.

Soon, thanks to the Canadian Bio-Analyzer (awaiting launch to the ISS in 2018), Immuno Profile's scientists will be able to perform real time analysis of blood cells and protein biomarkers on board the ISS. Creating an innovative portrait of immune health during a mission will provide new insight into astronauts' health as we prepare for journeys deeper into space.

Immune function

A white blood cell (left) produces antibodies to mark viruses for attack. Altered number or function of such cells can impair immune function and lead to the development of infections, the reactivation of dormant viruses, and increased potential for allergic reactions.

Objectives

Immuno Profile will:

 Impacts on Earth

Immuno Profile's results will provide insights into stress-related and age-associated immune dysfunction on Earth. As we age, our immune systems typically decline. The study could identify similarities between aging population's immune functions and those of astronauts in space.

The study could also give researchers more information about the mechanisms of virus reactivation. We all carry dormant, controlled viruses within our bodies. But a period of immune deficiency could provide some viruses, like the one that causes chickenpox in children or shingles in adults, with the opportunity to reactivate and cause further infection.

How it works

Up to 15 astronauts could participate in this study.

  1. Researchers will take blood samples from astronauts twice before their missions to examine their baseline immune system function.
  2. Blood samples will be taken on board the ISS at the beginning, middle, and end of their missions. They will be tested on site using the Bio-Analyzer.
  3. When astronauts return to Earth, scientists will collect two more blood samples.
  4. By analyzing all the data, researchers can develop the profile of the human immune system in space.

Not only do white blood cells fight infections, but they also attack cancerous cells within our bodies. They are created by bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside bones. Space-related changes in bone marrow function are being investigated by another Canadian study called MARROW.

Timeline

Immuno Profile's data collection phase will run from to .

Research team

Principal investigator

Co-investigators

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