January 20, 2023
“Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars” – while this is the start of a Frank Sinatra song, it’s also how University of British Columbia pharmaceutical sciences professor Dr. Corey Nislow may be feeling as he begins to analyze baker’s yeast and algae samples, which returned to Earth on December 11 after travelling around the moon for 42 days on NASA’s Artemis One lunar mission.
UBC pharmaceutical sciences researcher Corey Nislow clutches one of the yeast samples he and his Vancouver-based research team sent to space on the Artemis 1 Lunar Mission at the end of 2022. Credit: Justin Ohata/UBC Pharmaceutical Sciences
What do yeast and humans have in common?
Objects in space have much greater exposure to radiation than objects on Earth. Dr. Nislow’s experiment tests whether exposing the yeast to a lot of cosmic radiation will change its DNA. Yeast has a similar genetic makeup to humans, including the RAD51 gene essential for making a protein to repair DNA. His results could eventually lead to better radiation protection for astronauts.
A launchpad to understand how radiation works on the human body both in space and earthside
Earth’s magnetic field protects us from radiation, but we lose that protection when we voyage above the atmosphere. NASA’s next phase of the Artemis mission, which the Canadian Space Agency is a part of, intends to send humans to the moon by 2025.
Scientists could use Dr. Nislow’s research to develop a drug to deliver extra RAD51 through an mRNA vaccine, protecting people going to space from harmful radiation without changing their DNA.
The benefits to cancer patients here on Earth
While this research might sound out of this world to many, the benefits to cancer patients could be huge. Chemotherapy and radiation also damage our DNA. New countermeasures to combat radiation damage could be a boon to cancer patients by minimizing the side effects of various chemotherapies.
A version of this story originally appeared on the CTV News. Genome BC has proudly previously funded Dr. Nislow’s work on several genomics and healthcare initiatives.