Gravitational Cell Biology, Cellular Biomechanics and Gene Regulation
Gravity was and is one of the most important foundations of life on earth and has influenced men’s evolution throughout the last 4 billion years. Basic research is currently beginning to understand where and why earth's gravity is required for the function and homeostasis of the human body and its cells. Investigation of the molecular chromatin architecture and gene expression regulation under different gravity conditions will help understanding how the non-specific gravitational force is transduced into specific gene expression responses. Due to their demonstrated sensitivity to gravitational changes, cells of the human immune system represent an appropriate model system to investigate the role of Earth’s gravity in gene expression homeostasis. Understanding immune regulation in space at an integrated level is a requirement for appropriate risk assessment, medical monitoring and development of potential countermeasures for exploration class missions. Space medicine is a "medicine of health" with the clear objective of making important contributions to the preservation of human health and performance in challenging environments and during aging. The innovative potential of biotechnology in weightlessness is enormous and opens up a whole new world: for example, weightlessness in biotechnology and regenerative medicine opens up completely new perspectives for 3D tissue culture and tissue and organ regeneration and transplantation.
During the last 10 years, we investigated signal transduction cascades, the metabolism, functional parameters and gene expression responses in human lymphocytes and macrophages in different gravity environments through multi-platform approaches (parabolic flights, suborbital ballistic rockets, International Space Station, and 2D clinostat and centrifuge experiments), including rigorous control experiments. We are working together with research institutions from the United States, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Russia and China and with the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Swedish Space Cooperation (SSC). We are working as partner of the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), Kennedy Space Center, under a NASA-UZH Space Act Agreement (SAA) about “Biological Research Activities”.