Scientists Sent Mice To Space And Discovered Protein That Could Slow Down Ageing
A team of mice that spent a month in space may have uncovered the key to slowing down ageing, according to a new study.
The 12 space mice were sent aboard the International Space Station in 2018, and since returning to Earth, scientists have discovered that some of the mice not only coped better with the stresses of being in space, but also showed fewer signs of ageing.
The mice were launched into space on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket as part of a study run by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Tohoku University. The team behind the study were looking into the effects of a protein called Nrf2, which has previously been shown to prevent cancer and other diseases.
Before they were sent into orbit, half of the mice were genetically altered to remove the Nrf2 protein, while half were left unmodified. The study reports that the mice who had the Nrf2 protein removed experienced changes in blood components associated with the ageing process, whereas mice with Nrf2 showed little sign of change.
In addition, while all the mice remained largely healthy, the mice without Nrf2 appeared to stop putting on weight while in space, as per Vice.
Research has shown that changes to the human body caused by spending time in space actually resemble a sped-up ageing process, making space the ideal environment to study how ageing actually occurs.
Symptoms experienced by astronauts include a loss of bone density, and problems with the immune system. These issues are likely caused by the extreme conditions of space, such as zero gravity and increased radiation exposure, but the effect is a sort of fast-forward version of how average humans on Earth change as we get older.
Thanks to the space mice and their 31 day ISS stay, scientists now believe that Nrf2 could help with the stresses associated not only with space travel, but also, possibly, ageing.
Professor Masayuki Yamamota told Kyodo News:
The results highlight the significance of the role Nrf2 plays in cushioning the impact of space-derived stress.
The team of scientists behind the study say they are already looking at developing Nrf2 therapies for patients with age-related diseases. In the future, it’s hoped that these treatments could help with a number of as yet incurable diseases, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.
And with the anti-ageing industry estimated to be worth up to $610 billion by 2025, it looks like the space mice could have found the key to a very valuable solution.
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