CONSEQUENCES OF CONTAMINATION OF THE SPACECRAFT ENVIRONMENT: IMMUNOLOGIC CONSEQUENCES

William T Shearer

Abstract


Long-term space voyages pose numerous known and unknown health hazards, to the human immune system. Well-studied clinical examples of secondary immunodeficiencies created on Earth, lead one to predict that the conditions of prolonged space flight would weaken the human immune responses that normally hold infection and cancer in check. From evidence gathered from humans flown for prolonged periods in space and from human models of space flight studied on Earth, it is reasonable to suspect that space travelers to the planet Mars would experience a weakening of immunity. Subtle defects of immune system c ell structure and function have been observed in astronauts, such as weakening of specific Tlymphocyte recall of specific antigens. Ground-based models also have demonstrated alterations of immune function, such as the elevation of neuroendocrine immune system messengers, interleukin -6, and soluble tumor necrosis factor-alpha receptor in sleep deprivation. Since severe immune compromise the clinical consequences of reactivation of latent virus infections and the development of cancer, has yet to be seen in space flight or in the Earth models, it is extremely important to begin to quantify early changes in immunity to predict the development of immune system collapse with poor clinical outcomes. This approach is designed to validate a number of surrogate markers that will predict trouble ahead. Inherent in this research is the development of countermeasures to reduce the risks of infection and cancer in the first humans going to Mars.

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