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Guest: Adam Hadhazy; Topics: We discussed gene therapy for long duration human spaceflight per Adam's Aerospace America article in the July/August 2019 magazine issue.
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We welcomed science journalist Adam Hadhazy to the show regarding his article in the July/August 2019 issue of Aerospace America titled: "Homo sapiens Astronauta: Gene therapy could one day make it possible to biologically enhance humans to live and work in dep space." I strongly suggest you to read Adam's article if you have not already done so. You can download and read it at https://aerospaceamerica.aiaa.org/features/homo-sapiens-astronauta.
We started our one segment 68 minute discussion with Adam defining the subject matter for us and telling us how he got interested in gene therapy for spaceflight in the first place. We soon started technical talk regarding gene therapy, gene modification, and several of the long duration human spaceflight issues that might be successfully addressed by some sort of gene therapy or modification. Adam mentioned bone loss and other microgravity concerns and then later radiation. Our guest spent some time on the bone loss issues which prompted an email from listener Marylin in Omaha asking about using these techniques to treat osteoporosis for patients here on Earth. Adam had much to say about the gene modification medical research for Earth conditions and how they related to spaceflight as well as the spaceflight genetic research related and helped terrestrial medical conditions. Adam then talked about accelerated aging and radiation damage.
We asked Adam about NASA and gene modification. He say they were staying away from it now as it was very new with lots of unknowns and uncertainties. That said, it has been looked at for eye issues and other conditions. All in all, it was said that NASA was cautiously optimistic but also investing in the traditional ways of mitigating spaceflight human risks. Adam pointed out that as far as human spaceflight goes for now, traditional mitigation techniques, exercise and such seem to be OK but when the long duration human spaceflight missions start happening, there might be a bigger push toward some of the cutting edge work such as gene therapy.
Ft. Worth John called to ask how the modified gene(s) got replicated throughout every cell in the body. Don't miss what Adam said about this plus my additional comments on the subject. Adam talked about the work by Dr. George Church and his pioneering work in human genetic engineering. Dr. Church has created a sort of clearing house for this type of work, the Harvard Consortium for Space Genetics, founded in 2016. Adam had much to say about Dr. Church and his work with the Consortium throughout our discussion. Note that I will do my best to invite Dr. Church to be a guest on The Space Show. I will keep you posted on that effort
Marshall called to inquire about gene therapy as compared to genetic engineering. He also brought up ethical concerns and wondered how the researchers avoided crossing ethical lines. Don't miss this discussion. In addition, let us know your thoughts on gene therapy for human spaceflight by posting on our blog.
I asked our guest if he found pockets of resistance to this research within the space community. Once again don't miss how our guest responded to this particular question. Adrian from San Diego sent a few emails. In his first email, he pointed out that "gene modification for long term spaceflight only makes sense for crews/populations that will be dedicated for permanent space habitation and not for casual only months or few years travel and so germline modification and not somatic would be feasible so these populations would be considered a human species subset." In addition, he pointed to a CNN article regarding gene therapy experiments underway with sickle cell anemia: www.cnn.com/2019/07/30/health/crispr-trial-sickle-cell/index.html. Later in the program, Adrian sent in a second note championing Marshall's ethical concern and comments. I read his note on air so do listen to what Adrian said. Do you agree with him? Go to our blog and let us know.
I offered lots of additional information on the subject given my having been interested in the subject as applied to CF which I have mentioned frequently on Space Show programs. I talk about attending the gene modification workshop at Stanford a few years ago regarding gene modification development for CF with Stanford and UC Berkeley genetic researchers. I hope the information that I shared was useful because as Adam said early in the show, the space gene therapy and modification research is directly associated with terrestrial medical issues which also related to spaceflight gene therapy issues. One big difference that Adam did talk about during the interview was the researchers think they can reverse the gene modification for spaceflight so that when the person returns to Earth, the genetic changes could be undone. For medical conditions here on Earth, researchers are seeking a cure to a medical problem so reversing the genetic engineering would not usually be a consideration.
Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog for this show. You can reach Adam through me or his website, http://adamhadhazy.com.