Last week, a team of university students from Poland successfully completed its research under various hypergravity levels in ESA’s Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) located at ESTEC, Noordwijk.
With a diameter of 8 m, the LDC offers hypergravity environments from 1 to 20 g simulated by the centripetal forces due to rotation. Within the LCD, scientists can conduct studies involving cells, plants and small animals, as well as physical science and technology demonstrations. Data acquired in the LDC are particularly important since observations done in microgravity may not be sufficient enough. Therefore, a broader gravity spectrum with gravity levels rising above 1 g can usefully add to the general scientific data set. Another advantage of the LDC is that the different g levels can be controlled for an extended period of time (even up to 6 months, although students in the SYT! campaign will only use it for 2,5 days) with a constant supply of power, gas or liquids.
The team has been developing its experiment since the selection last October 2018. During this preparation period, they not only learned to conduct valid scientific research, but all team members were also highly active in project and financial management, logistics, coordination and outreach. These additional aspects make the SYT! campaign extraordinary in terms of learning goals for students. As the leader of the team mentioned, “Spin Your Thesis! campaign was an outstanding opportunity to meet open-minded as well as amazing people and scientists. When we first saw spinning LDC with our biological samples we couldn't believe that we came so far and actually did this!”.
Composed of four Polish students specialized in medicine, genetics and technology from the three biggest Wroclaw’s universities, the HyperCells team has been tackling a major problem: chemotherapy resistance! Thanks to this Spin Your Thesis! campaign, they are aiming at investing the effects of hypergravity on the behaviour of multidrug resistant (MDR) cells.
Some types of cancer - such as breast, colon and ovarian cancer - display multidrug resistance, which leads to failures in applied treatment. Countless studies have been performed on the topic and hypergravity is an interesting avenue to explore as gravitational stress may possibly affect cell pathways involved in MDR phenomena. For its experiment, the HyperCells team has chosen to study ovarian cancer cells cultured in vitro.By performing 24-hours spins at 2, 4, 10 and 20 g on independent samples with and without exposure to their chemotherapeutic agent, the team can examine how gravity alters the sensitivity of malignant cells to chemotherapeutic drugs. Now that the campaign is finished and all the samples have been fixed, the team will run the analysis in the labs in Poland. This includesinvestigating the expression of MDR-related genes as well as evaluation of the cell homeostasis affected by the altered gravity. Hence, there is still work to achieve but the team is highly motivated; “The days spent at ESTEC will stick in our minds for a long time. Although there is much work and molecular analyses to be done after the campaign, we can't wait to see what actually happened with cancer cells at hyper-g”.
The employees working at the LDC and at ESA Academyenjoy working with the students. “Every year, Spin Your Thesis! brings new students who are so eager to perform top quality science on this centrifuge, said Nigel Savage, Programme Coordinator for university student experiments. “Their boundless enthusiasm is contagious and we do everything to help them achieve their goals. We are confident that their first ‘professional’ encounter was positive for them and that they will pursue their career in gravity related research.”
The first part of our SYT! 2019 campaign has been successfully completed but stay tuned for the second team’s experiment “GDArms”, which will recreate a rocket environment inside the centrifuge in January 2020.
If you are interested in participating in the SYT! campaign, please click here and see how you can propose and conduct your own experiment in altered gravity.
We are looking forward to the SYT! 2020 campaign and we hope to see you there!