Spaceflight to probe how cells become diseased

April 5th, 2010 - 6:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, April 5 (IANS) A spaceflight will probe how cells remain healthy or succumb to disease, particularly in the face of stress or damage, in the first ever experiment of its kind.
On Monday, Arizona State University (ASU) Biodesign Institute researchers Cheryl Nickerson and her team, including Jennifer Barrila and Shameema Sarker, will see their latest experiment launched into low earth orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery.

The goals of the team’s research are to provide fundamental new insight into the infectious disease process, and further understanding of other progressive diseases, including immune disorders and cancer.

The knowledge gained from this work may eventually aid in the development of new treatments for infectious diseases, which remain a leading cause of human morbidity and mortality worldwide.

Results of the current study will also be used to help mitigate infectious disease risks to the crew, who are particularly vulnerable to infection, due to reduced immune function during spaceflight missions.

“The key to this research,” said Nickerson, a School of Life Sciences associate professor and researcher at Biodesign’s Centre for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, “is the novel way that cells adapt and respond to the unique microgravity environment of spaceflight.”

This is the third time that Nickerson and her ASU team have flown their NASA-funded experiments aboard a space shuttle.

Their previous research on board Shuttles Atlantis and Endeavour were the first to show that spaceflight induces major changes in the gene expression and virulence of the food-born pathogen, Salmonella.

The current mission will be the first time that human cells will undergo infection by a pathogen in spaceflight, says a ASU Biodesign Institute release.

Results of this study will be analysed in a collaborative effort between Nickerson’s lab and that of her co-investigator Mark Ott, researcher at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre, and his graduate student, Sarah Castro.

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