Human Muscle Cells Will Be Sent To Space To Learn Why We Age
By Andrew Parker - December 20, 2021

Scientists are closer to uncovering the secrets of aging. There are human muscle cells that were grown in a lab here on Earth that will be sent to space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the hopes of getting a deeper understanding of why we age. This experiment, known as the MicroAge experiment was created by researchers from the Univerity of Liverpool. The cells grown in the lab are about the size of a grain of rice were placed into a 3D-printed container which is around the size of a pencil sharpener. The study costs £1.2 million and its aim is to understand if people can live longer and healthier lives.

Getty Images/DigitalVision/Willie B. Thomas

MicroAge just launched from the Kentucky Space Center in Florida and will come back to Earth this upcoming January. British researchers wanted to understand how muscle tissues work in space so they can apply them to the muscles here on Earth. When someone is without gravity, like astronauts, muscles get weaker, very similar to what happens as we age. But when the astronauts return, their muscles recover. This specific mission is being funded by the UK Space Agency to get a grasp on why our muscles get weaker as we get older, and to perhaps find a solution for that. When we get older, our muscles lose muscle as well a strength, which is usually associated with falling and more recovery time. A number of the 24 muscle cells will be stimulated to ‘exercise’  while others will get protective heat shock proteins.

When the experiment is finished, the muscles will be frozen and brought back to Earth to be studied even more. Professor Anne McArdle, one of the members of the study, said that it’s important to understand the mechanisms that are in charge of a decrease of muscles. She explained, “Astronauts in microgravity lose their muscle mass and strength at an accelerated rate compared with older people on earth’ which gives scientists ”a unique model to rapidly determine the mechanisms underlying muscle loss not only in astronauts, but with relevance to older people on Earth.” Science Minister George Freeman added that this research could potentially help identify cures for musculoskeletal diseases and said, “By harnessing the unique environment of the International Space Station our pioneering scientists could help us all live healthier, stronger lives.”