What does space technology and NASA have to do with breast cancer research? More than you’d think! According to the Scientific American magazine, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have moved beyond creating robotic spacecraft and begun using their technology to answer pertinent medical questions.
One of the first advances in medicine that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory took part in delves in breast cancer research. Dr. Susan Love, a surgeon, was attempting to gain greater understanding of breast ducts and map the structure in order to find out if any infectious agents within the ducts could lead to breast cancer development.
Love’s research kept seeing problems, however. The antiseptic used to clean the subjects’ skin had an excess of dead microbes and it was difficult to separate the “important bacteria” from “noise and contamination,” Love explained.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, however, had just the solution. Scientists from NASA have a variety of technological advances meant for studying small sets of microorganisms, the Scientific American reports. NASA has taken part in these advances because spaceships must carry as little earthly bacteria to other planets as possible to protect other planets from contamination.
Parag Vaishampayan, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, had agreed to help analyze breast ducts and its microbiome after Dr. Love presented her research.
“When Dr. Love presented her work, I said, ‘That’s fantastic. Of course there’s microbacteria in the breast. And we can help analyze it,’’’ Vaishampayan told the news source.
The researchers went on to analyze the breast ducts of 23 healthy women and 25 breast cancer survivors. The scientists discovered that breast duct fluid has a specific microbiome and that the microbacteria in healthy women differed from the population of microbacteria in women with a history of breast cancer.
The scientists are not sure whether the healthy women have a protective microbiome or whether the women with a breast cancer history have had that particular microbiome destroyed through chemotherapy and radiation.
The researchers are planning on a follow-up study to learn more about how the microbacteria in breast ducts could play a role in breast cancer development. More and more breast cancer research is pointing in the direction of how bacteria or viruses such as the mouse mammary tumor virus may impact the development of this disease. This type of research could potentially lead to the creation of preventive medicine including a breast cancer vaccine.