NASA contributing to cancer research

March 25, 2009 2:51:25 PM PDT
When you think of NASA, cancer research is not the first thing that comes to mind. However, the space agency has contributed tremendously to medicine over the years in many different ways. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

When NASA launches research missions, it's not just space and other galaxies that are being explored. They're also contributing to cancer research. Since its founding 51 years ago, the space agency has been developing new technologies to improve the quality of human life, especially in the treatment of cancer.

"There are experiments that are going on, on almost every flight," said Dr. Neal Pellis, a NASA Senior Scientist

Among the cancer treatments developed through aerospace research are improved breast cancer detection and advanced image analysis, which improves detection of the disease.

"The standard mammogram, the image analysis software for that, as you probably know, is the image analysis software for Hubble," said Dr. Pellis.

Dr. Pellis said work on the International Space Station is pioneering research in cancer cell and tissue growth. They're doing it by observing experiments in weightless conditions.

"Someone sees something that we've developed and they will say, 'You know, we can use that,'" said Dr. Pellis.

Dr. David Poplack is Medical Director at Texas Children's Cancer Center. He said zero-gravity experiments on shuttle missions and the space lab have had a tremendous impact on cancer research and treatments.

"Something as basic as that can tell us a lot about the process of cancer cell growth, how tumors develop, how they progress, how they spread and give us a lot of information that likely will impact us in terms of development of new therapies," said Dr. Poplack.

New therapies that could very likely save countless lives.

"I think that the overall impact of NASA on the bio-medical field has been really incalculable," said Dr. Poplack.

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