Monday, 7 December 2015

Vaccine Trail in Space

Over the next year, twin astronauts play a role in an experiment that involves the International Space Station.
Orbiting at about 249 miles above our terrestrial home is the International Space Station (ISS), the largest peace-time international project in human history. It is also one of the sites for a yearlong experiment which involves the twin astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly.

Subject of Experiment: Flu shots with a twist!

Kelly brothers are a part of an exciting experiment that involves the study of the behaviour of immunity system of humans in space and what effect does it have on a long term basis. Earlier this year both the brothers received their flu vaccinations. But while Mark stayed home, Scott took the ride up to ISS for a year long stint. Both the brothers will continue to be studied by NASA researchers to track how extended stays in space affect the human immune systems. Both the brothers received their second flu shot this November, this time Mark on earth and Scott aboard the ISS.

Most of us will think it’s very difficult to get sick aboard the ISS. Contrary to this belief, bacteria and viruses adore the environment of a space craft. It’s warm, it’s sealed, its climate controlled, and the best part, it’s full of people who have nowhere to go and no way of avoiding any stray germs they might have brought with them. That’s especially true aboard the International Space Station (ISS), where crews rotate in and out and can stay for many months at a time, and where residents’ immune systems—flummoxed by long-term exposure to zero-g—are unable to function as they should.

The Kelly brothers’ immune system had already been studied in the run-up to Scott’s launch last March, and both were certified fit. But they should slowly be diverging, with Scott having more problems. In space, some of the immune system’s billions of cell start to display changes in terms of shape and function, especially the critically important T-Cells, and none of it to the better. T-Cells can be most aptly defined as the generals who coordinate the entire immune system’s responses.

The experiment that will help us study all of this began a few months before Scott left Earth, when both the brothers received a similar trivalent flu vaccine – one that is capable to protect against three strains of the virus. The NASA researchers will be looking not just at how Scott’s immune system is changed by his time in space, but also how well it recovers once Scott is back on Earth.

The Kelly brothers are hardly the only people to get flu vaccination this year, but if everything works according to plan, they might just be the most important ones!  
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