Heart cells 'adapt to space travel and change back again'
The thought of space flight may make the heart skip a beat, but travelling beyond Earth could actually alter the organ's cells.
With extended stays aboard the International Space Station common, and the likelihood of humans spending longer in space increasing, there is a need to understand the effects of micro-gravity on cardiac function.
New research suggests heart muscle cells derived from stem cells have a remarkable ability to adapt to their environment during and after space flight.
Scientists examined cell-level cardiac function and gene expression in human heart cells cultured aboard the International Space Station for five and a half weeks.
They found exposure to micro-gravity changed the expression of thousands of genes, but largely normal patterns reappeared within 10 days after returning to Earth.
Senior study author, Joseph Wu, of Stanford University School of Medicine, said: "Our study is novel because it is the first to use human induced pluripotent stem cells to study the effects of space flight on human heart function.
"Micro-gravity is an environment that is not very well understood, in terms of its overall effect on the human body, and studies like this could help shed light on how the cells of the body behave in space, especially as the world embarks on more and longer space missions such as going to the moon and Mars.
"These studies may provide insight into cellular mechanisms that could benefit astronaut health during long-duration space flight, or potentially lay the foundation for new insights into improving heart health on Earth."