SEP 21, 2016 12:24 PM PDT

How Space Exploration is Supporting Cancer Discoveries

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
Cancer biologists have a surprising but wholly vested ally in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The partnership began 15 years ago and has recently been renewed for continued collaboration between the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) until 2021.
 The Same technology that scans galaxies also works to scan for cancer! | Image: Early Research Detection Network
How did this unlikely friendship start? As it turns out, both NASA and cancer researchers deal with mass quantities of data that may be managed or mined with the same computer algorithms. For NASA, the raw data are often in the form of measurements from cameras, spectrometers, and other sensors. For cancer biologists, the data are often physical measurements of metabolites, proteins, and other biomarkers. The same tool, then, that allows physicists to study a star, planet, or any celestial system could be applied to biology, helping researchers hone in cancer systems.
 
"From a NASA standpoint, there are significant opportunities to develop new data science capabilities that can support both the mission of exploring space and cancer research using common methodological approaches," said Dan Crichton who heads JPL's Center for Data Science and Technology. "We have a great opportunity to perfect those techniques and grow JPL's data science technologies, while serving our nation.

The partnership has resulted in six chemicals and genetic biomarkers that were FDA-approved for use in cancer research and diagnosis worldwide. An additional nine biomarkers are approved for use in clinical labs in the US.
 

Next, the collaborators hope to apply image-recognition software used to spot star clusters and other celestial bodies to improve cancer discoveries. In particular, this software could help archive images of cancer specimen from the EDRN. Then, the images can be analyzed for early signs of cancer based on a patient's age, ethnic background, and other demographics.
 
"As we develop more automated methods for detecting and classifying features in images, we see great opportunities for enhancing data discovery," said Crichton. "We have examples where algorithms for detection of features in astronomy images have been transferred to biology and vice-versa."

Additional source: NASA, Nature World News, Space.com
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
OCT 17, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
OCT 17, 2019
Insight Into a DNA Damage Sensor That Orchestrates Repair
Simple cell functions like division or metabolism can lead to DNA damage, which can also occur because of normal exposure to the sun or noxious agents....
OCT 17, 2019
Cancer
OCT 17, 2019
Treating dogs with human breast cancer drugs
Did you know that dogs get lung cancer? New research published recently in the journal Clinical Cancer Research shows how dogs with cancer are benefiting f...
OCT 17, 2019
Cardiology
OCT 17, 2019
Exercise Produces Greater Benefits In Those With Cardiovascular Disease
The fact that exercise benefits the heart and can help a person live a longer healthier life is well established. Exercising regularly can improve quality...
OCT 17, 2019
Cancer
OCT 17, 2019
The role of sleeper cells in metastasis
New research published in the journal Nature Communications aims to explain why some breast cancers recur following cancer treatment. According to col...
OCT 17, 2019
Cancer
OCT 17, 2019
Blood test to detect brain cancer
Research published recently in the journal Nature Communications, a new study details the potential of a blood test that is capable of identifying brain ca...
OCT 17, 2019
Cancer
OCT 17, 2019
New diagnostic tool for thyroid cancer
Thyroid cancer diagnoses have risen in the last thirty years from 6 per 100,000 to more than 14 per 100,000. That’s according to the Surveillance, Ep...
Loading Comments...