A new investigation in space is trying to build a drug that will help the immune system kill cancer cells. This would prevent a given type of cancer from happening again in a patient.

NASA says that microgravity research on the International Space Station may give new insights into fighting cancer.

They also said that investigators hope to make this possible using a new drug and antibody combination that could decrease the nasty side effects.

The problem with chemotherapy is that it kills healthy cells along with the unhealthy ones.

Investigators are hopeful that the new combination will cause less severe issues than those associated with chemotherapy. But this kind of treatment will still have side effects.

New drugs in development on the International Space Station would target cancer cells and cause fewer side effects than chemotherapy. This six-well BioCell will culture the cancer cells. Credit: BioServe Space Technologies

Dhaval Shah, co-investigator explained:

This molecule also has the ability to wake up, or release the break, on existing immune cells within the cancer. In any given tumor, when these molecules are released [from the cancer cell], they ‘wake up’ the surrounding immune cells and stimulate the body’s own immune system, making it recognize and kill the cancer cells itself.

On Earth, research into antibody-drug conjugates to treat cancer has been around a while. Earth-based laboratories aren’t able to mimic the shape of the cancer cell within the body, thus producing incorrect findings. The International Space Station’s unique microgravity environment allows scientists to approach the research from a new, 3-D angle, said NASA.

Knowing how drug combinations work in microgravity is increasingly important as we plan for future deep-space missions, where we may need to be able to treat diseases such as cancer.