December 26, 2015

"Emmanuel Mignot, M.D., Ph.D., known for discovering that narcolepsy is related to the immune system, is taking advantage of a unique opportunity to investigate how the immune systems of twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly respond to the seasonal flu vaccine."

NASA Mignot is conducting his research as an investigator for NASA’s Twins Study. by Amy Blanchett and Laurie Abadie

'NASA’s Human Research Program is studying many aspects of Scott Kelly’s health during his one-year space flight mission, with the unique advantage of also studying his identical twin brother, Mark, on Earth. It will help determine how the immune system changes during space flight, and how to possibly counterbalance the changes for a journey to Mars, perhaps through the use of vaccinations. NASA Fetches Cures in Space: Studies Immune Response to Flu Vaccine Image of lymphocytes or T-cells.

'On the International Space Station, Scott is exposed to fewer and different pathogens than Mark over the course of the year. Exposure to bugs, bacteria and viruses on Earth causes the body to produce more T-cells, which protect us from infection. These immune cells patrol blood and tissues in the body looking for invaders, and due to previous exposures, are prepared to attack. This process strengthens the immune system.

'“Each T-cell has a slightly different gene that allows them to react to specific bacteria or viruses and there are billions of different receptors in these T-cells to study,” said Mignot, also professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and director of the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. “Vaccinations only protect against one agent, in this case the flu. So we can look at the specific T-cells that are recruited by the body to fight against the flu and see how the immune system responds.”

'Mignot and his team are curious to know whether after a year in an isolated environment like the space station, if Scott’s immune system will be less responsive or more active due to other stressful exposures such as isolation and being in an environment far from home and family, work stress, radiation, microgravity and altered sleep cycles. It is crucial to understand this, because stress and immune changes could lead to reactivation of latent infections.'

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