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Immune cells halt round in space

An immune cell swallows a small capsule-shaped bacteria. The immune cells which help protect us from disease does not generally work the way they should in space travellers and it could be something to do with their shape. Researchers at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) have been studying how immune cells behave in microgravity as part of their research on the health effects of space on astronauts.//

It has been found that astronauts have elevated virus levels their sneezes contain up to ten times more Epstein-Barr virus than normal Earth sneezes, for example. Looking at the key immune cells, researchers have found that B-cells, which produce antibodies to flag invading micro-organisms for destruction, and T-cells which actually physically attack them, have both been found to behave differently in space.

In space, T-cells do not multiply properly, neither move or signal each other as well and overall seem less able to destroy invaders. While one possibility is that the unique physical and psychological stresses of space flight might trigger immune-altering hormones, another possibility is that the weightlessness of space might be affecting the immune cells directly. To investigate this, NASA has developed a "rotating bioreactor" which allows researchers to investigate the possible effects of microgravity on individual immune cells without the complications of hormone effects.

The bioreactor consists of a rotating container full of a fluid which allows cells to remain suspended for months at a time in continual free fall, just as they would be in Earth orbit. According to Neal Pellis, chief of JSC's Biological systems Office, the cells in the bioreactor began to change in the first 15 minutes. One of the first changes was that T-cells were somehow forced to remain round and the researchers believe this could be responsible for the problems seen.

On Earth, T-cells can change their shape, protruding portions of themselves s
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