Science For Everyone: Drug Research, Cancer Treatment — How ISS Research Benefits Earth

Science For Everybody: Welcome again to “Science For Everyone“, ABP Stay’s weekly science column. Final week, we mentioned black holes, and the way they behave. This week, we are going to focus on the quite a few methods the experiments carried out on the Worldwide Area Station (ISS) profit Earth. 

The ISS, which has been inhabited by people for over 20 years, advantages life on Earth in additional methods than one can think about. Throughout each expedition, astronauts and cosmonauts have carried out analysis on the orbiting laboratory and achieved breakthroughs. These experiments embody drug analysis, simplifying most cancers remedies, growing expertise to watch warmth security on Earth, creating synthetic retinas in area, and making robots, amongst others. 

  1. Drug analysis

ISS inhabitants have achieved a number of feats in drug analysis. In 2015, medical trials of a brand new drug for treating Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic dysfunction characterised by progressive muscle degeneration and weak point on account of alterations in a protein referred to as dystrophin, started. The drug, referred to as TAS-205, was developed utilizing improved constructions of key proteins that have been crystallised on the ISS, and which have been bigger and of higher-quality than proteins fashioned on Earth. This was as a result of the microgravity atmosphere favoured the expansion of better-quality crystals. 


In microgravity, molecules have time to align extra completely on the floor of a crystal, than on Earth (Photograph: NASA)

Utilizing the proteins grown on the ISS, scientists have been capable of design a drug to suit particularly right into a location on the protein related to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. 

That is an incurable genetic dysfunction, and the ISS examine of the crystal construction of dystrophin offered hints for compounds that may inhibit the protein. 

A professor on the College of Tsukuba in Japan developed TAS-205 utilizing these hints. 

In 2017, the outcomes of a small medical trial in human sufferers have been printed. In December 2020, a Section 3 trial to look at the effectiveness of TAS-205 in conditions just like precise medical use started. The analysis will proceed until 2027, NASA says on its web site. 

  1. Simplifying most cancers remedies for sufferers

The Microgravity Progress of Crystalline Monoclonal Antibodies for Pharmaceutical Functions (CASIS-PCG 5) examine, which grows monoclonal antibodies (man-made antibodies produced by cloning a novel white blood cell) in a microgravity atmosphere for therapeutic functions, is sponsored by the ISS Nationwide Lab, and is targeted on bettering how medicine are delivered to sufferers. 

The goal of the examine was to develop a extra uniform crystalline type of the monoclonal antibody Keytruda. This drug is used to deal with a number of sorts of cancers, together with melanoma, probably the most critical kind of pores and skin most cancers, and lung most cancers. 


Research is conducted on the ISS to improve cancer treatments on Earth (Photo: NASA)
Analysis is carried out on the ISS to enhance most cancers remedies on Earth (Photograph: NASA)

Since monoclonal antibodies don’t dissolve simply in liquid, it turns into troublesome to create a drug that may be administered utilizing an an infection. In consequence, sufferers must spend hours in a medical setting to obtain the drug. 

The PCG-5 examine has produced high-quality crystalline suspensions that may enable the supply of Keytruda by injection. This may simplify therapy for sufferers and caregivers, and in addition scale back the price.

In line with Merck Laboratories, the work on this analysis is ongoing, NASA says. 

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  1. Expertise to watch warmth security on Earth

When astronauts and cosmonauts train on the ISS, their core physique temperature rises sooner than the rise in temperature that may have occurred whereas exercising on Earth. Since 2009, the European Area Company’s (ESA’s) ThermoLab experiment has investigated the regulation of physique temperature, and cardiovascular variations in crew members. 

The German firm Dräge has developed a expertise that measures physique temperature. This expertise has began to make a distinction on Earth, in line with NASA. A number of clinics use these units to watch toddler incubators and sufferers throughout surgical procedure.

The units have additionally been used to review how excessive warmth impacts farmers in Kenya and Burkina Faso. 

The gadget can be used to seek for indicators of fatigue in folks working in excessive circumstances, together with fighter pilots and firefighters. 

  1. Synthetic retinas in area

Hundreds of thousands of individuals on Earth undergo from retinal degenerative illnesses. Their imaginative and prescient might be restored with the assistance of synthetic retinas. LambdaVision, a United States-based firm, has flown experiments to the area station in order that synthetic retinas might be made in microgravity. Synthetic human retinas could also be developed sooner or later utilizing a light-activated protein referred to as bacteriorhodopsin, in line with NASA. This protein can exchange the operate of broken light-sensing cells within the eye. 

The method applies layer after layer of a skinny movie, creating implants. On Earth, aggregation and sedimentation of particles happens. Microgravity can restrict these processes, imporving the standard and stability of the movies. 

In December 2021, an experiment was launched which demonstrated the manufacture of a 200-layer movie for the primary time in microgravity. Since sedimentation and aggregation of particles is proscribed in microgravity, a number of life-changing medical applied sciences might be manufactured on the ISS. 

  1. Robotic functions 

STS-133, the 133rd mission in NASA’s Area Shuttle Program, delivered the newest Robonaut model, Robonaut 2 (R2), to the ISS in February 2011. It grew to become the primary humanoid robotic in area in 2011. 

Robonaut is a humanoid robotic that has the flexibility and dexterity to govern {hardware}, reply safely to sudden hindrances, and work in excessive danger environments, in line with NASA. An industrial power robotic glove was developed with the assistance of Robonaut. 

The Robo-Glove expertise, which is a spin-off of R2, is a wearable gadget that enables the consumer to tightly grip instruments and different objects for longer intervals of time with out experiencing muscle discomfort or ache, by decreasing the greedy pressure required by a person to carry one thing. The expertise was initially developed by NASA and Normal Motors (GM). 


Robo-Glove (Photo: NASA)
Robo-Glove (Photograph: NASA)

NASA and GM began engaged on R2 in 2007. 

Robo-Glove helps astronauts and cosmonauts keep away from hand fatigue and damage. Now, the gadget is commercially out there as Ironhand. Bioservo Applied sciences in Sweden manufactures the gadget.

  1. Subsequent-generation medical scanning expertise

The researchers behind the Neutron star Inside Composition Explorer (NICER), a payload aboard the ISS learning the physics of neutron stars, created and patented an X-ray supply that might be turned on and off in a short time. A neuroradiologist at Massachusetts Normal Hospital wanted this expertise for his quest to enhance computed tomography (CT) scans, in line with NASA.

Since conventional CT machines are massive, heavy, and devour quite a lot of energy, they’re exhausting to deploy in environments with few sources. The NICER groups and the Massachusetts Normal Hospital labored collectively to develop a stationary ring of the modulated X-ray sources developed by the previous. As a substitute of spinning a big X-ray machine round a affected person to seize a CT scan, the stationary ring might be mounted across the affected person, and fired when required. 


This is a scan of a human hand obtained by a research team led by Dr Raj Gupta from Massachusetts General Hospital. The team, along with the NICER team, worked together to develop a stationary ring of modulated X-ray sources that can be turned on and off very quickly, and can be mounted around a patient to obtain a good quality computed tomography scan even at a lower radiation level. (Photo: Raj Gupta, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School via NASA)
It is a scan of a human hand obtained by a analysis group led by Dr Raj Gupta from Massachusetts Normal Hospital. The group, together with the NICER group, labored collectively to develop a stationary ring of modulated X-ray sources that may be turned on and off in a short time, and might be mounted round a affected person to acquire a superb high quality computed tomography scan even at a decrease radiation degree. (Photograph: Raj Gupta, Massachusetts Normal Hospital and Harvard Medical College by way of NASA)

Not solely does the approach scale back the quantity of radiation the affected person is uncovered to, but additionally allows a greater picture high quality even on the decrease radiation degree. 

Decreasing radiation publicity may help future astronauts on their approach to Mars. Analysis is being carried out to make the prototype a testable gadget. 

  1. Synthetic blood for animals

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Company’s (JAXA’s) work on crystallising proteins in microgravity impressed the event of a synthetic animal albumin, which is troublesome to crystallise on Earth, in line with NASA. 

With a purpose to higher perceive the construction of albumin and the way it’s fashioned, researchers used the ISS to crystallise the protein from cats and canine.


This is an image of protein crystals formed in microgravity inside ISS's Kibo Module (Photo: NASA)
That is a picture of protein crystals fashioned in microgravity inside ISS’s Kibo Module (Photograph: NASA)

Since there are not any massive shops of animal donated blood on Earth, veterinarians face issues offering blood transfusion remedies to animals. Subsequently, the findings of the analysis may help develop synthetic animal albumin, which is able to show to be useful for veterinary drugs.

  1. Figuring out excessive warmth and plant stress

NASA’s ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Area Station (ECOSTRESS) payload has many functions, together with figuring out warmth islands on Earth. It could possibly establish plant stress by measuring refined modifications on Earth. Utilizing such measurements, scientists can establish excessive warmth produced by occasions reminiscent of fires or lava flows, and can even examine heatwaves in cities and the motion of heat water currents, in line with NASA. 


NASA's ECOSTRESS, which is located on the ISS, identified urban heat islands in Delhi and nearby villages in 2022 (Photo: NASA)
NASA’s ECOSTRESS, which is positioned on the ISS, recognized city warmth islands in Delhi and close by villages in 2022 (Photograph: NASA)

The findings of ECOSTRESS have been utilized in efforts to higher allocate water sources, measure plant stress, monitor mosquitoes, scale back the warmth absorbed by metropolis surfaces, scale back fireplace danger in forests, seek for geothermal power sources, and assist farmers water their fields effectively. 

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  1. Sequencing the DNA of microorganisms in photo voltaic system

The ISS is a testing floor to review the best way to maintain astronauts secure and wholesome on long-duration missions. The primary DNA sequencing in area was carried out in 2016. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins carried out this experiment, which served as a stepping stone to molecular biology analysis in spaceflight circumstances. Sure samples have been despatched to the ISS, which Rubins and fellow crew members analysed utilizing a tool referred to as MinION. The gadget is as large as a mobile phone, and was used to learn the nucleic acid bases within the samples. 


This is an image of NASA astronaut Kate Rubins using the Biomolecular Sequencer experiment to conduct the first DNA sequencing in space. It is a space-based DNA sequencer, and can identify microbes, help researchers understand crew member health, diagnose diseases, and can detect DNA-based life in the solar system. (Photo: NASA)
That is a picture of NASA astronaut Kate Rubins utilizing the Biomolecular Sequencer experiment to conduct the primary DNA sequencing in area. It’s a space-based DNA sequencer, and may establish microbes, assist researchers perceive crew member well being, diagnose illnesses, and may detect DNA-based life within the photo voltaic system. (Photograph: NASA)

Utilizing this system, scientists will have the ability to establish pathogens on the area station, and on future exploration missions at a fast tempo. They might additionally have the ability to establish life on different planets within the photo voltaic system if the samples collected present a biochemistry just like that of life on Earth. The gadget can be utilized in distant areas on Earth. 

The approach may help establish and diagnose illnesses, and assist scientists perceive the well being of astronauts and cosmonauts. 

  1. Creating colloids for on a regular basis family merchandise

Final yr, Procter & Gamble (P&G) despatched supplies to the area station for colloid analysis. Colloids are mixtures of particles suspended in liquids, and that are bigger than atoms or peculiar molecules, however too small to be seen to the bare eye. Utilizing the findings of this analysis, P&G developed a formulation of its Febreze Unstopables TOUCH Cloth Spray with touch-activated scent launch expertise. Because of this the expertise releases scent solely when activated by contact. 

Since colloidal particles might rise or sink on Earth on account of gravity, researchers typically conduct experiments on colloids on the area station. NASA’s Superior Colloid Experiments (ACE) and the ISS Nationwide Nationwide Laboratory conduct analysis on colloids.

In line with NASA, P&G has stated that the work on the ISS has allowed them to create a fluid that appears and appears like water. 

  1. Analysis to protect meals in grocery shops and apply air filtration expertise to battle Covid-19 

Area station crews have grown two generations of Arabidopsis crops utilizing NASA’s Superior Astroculture (ADVASC) system, which helps perceive the consequences of gravity on plants. An Arabidopsis plant is a mannequin organism that’s nicely understood and infrequently utilized in basic biology experiments, in line with NASA. ADVASC serves as a system that gives exact management of environmental parameters for plant development, reminiscent of mild, carbon dioxide and ethylene concentrations, temperature, fluid nutrient supply and relative humidity. 

The ADVASC system has been used on Earth for air purification. The system was used to lengthen the shelf lifetime of vegetables and fruit in grocery shops, and in cellars to boost storage circumstances of wines.


This is an image of NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson observing the Advanced Astroculture soybean plant growth experiment. The Advanced Astroculture system has been used on Earth for air purification, including prolonging the shelf life of fruits and vegetables in grocery stories, and developing air purifiers to eliminate SARS-COV-2 (Photo: NASA)
That is a picture of NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson observing the Superior Astroculture soybean plant development experiment. The Superior Astroculture system has been used on Earth for air purification, together with prolonging the shelf lifetime of vegetables and fruit in grocery tales, and growing air purifiers to get rid of SARS-COV-2 (Photograph: NASA)

Firms have used the expertise in air purifiers to get rid of SARS-CoV-2. A number of purifiers made utilizing this expertise have been produced and distributed throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. 

A separate expertise was examined to detect contaminants on the ISS. This expertise was included in an air sensor on Earth to generate a “virus propagation danger index” in shared areas. This expertise tells folks whether or not they need to scale back crowding or take different steps to restrict danger, primarily based on the virus propagation danger detected.

  1. Scholar analysis despatched to area

College students from internationally have despatched their analysis to the area station, which has helped conduct DNA sequencing experiments. College students’ code despatched to the ISS has been used to manage robots as a part of the Kibo Robotic Programming Problem. 

  1. Ultrasound strategies

Individuals who reside in distant areas typically have problem accessing medical imaging expertise reminiscent of ultrasound. Equally, medical services are usually not inside simple attain on the area station. Subsequently, crew members have been educated to make use of a small ultrasound unit to look at fellow members. The gadget is named Superior Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity (ADUM), and is the one medical imaging gadget at present out there on the ISS. It may be used to find out the accuracy of ultrasound use to diagnose sure sorts of on-orbit accidents and sicknesses, in line with NASA. 

The ADUM group, in collaboration with the World Interactive Community Targeted on Crucial Ultrasound (WINFOCUS), tailored these strategies to be used in distant areas on Earth. Greater than 45,000 healthcare professionals have been educated to carry out complicated procedures utilizing the ADUM strategies. 

This may enable sufferers to entry high quality and well timed diagnostic care, and make the healthcare system extra environment friendly by permitting for early prognosis and therapy. 

  1. Unravelling scientific mysteries

Area station analysis helps unravel scientific mysteries. As an example, NASA’s Flame Extinguishing Experiment (FLEX) assessed the effectiveness of fireplace suppressants in microgravity and quantifies the impact of various crew exploration atmospheres on fireplace suppression. FLEX studied burning gasoline droplets. Whereas learning these droplets, researchers found that continued, low temperature burning occurred after obvious flame extinction. These flames are often known as cool flames, and are completely different from the flames seen in a campfire. 

Whereas typical flames produce soot, water and carbon dioxide, cool flames produce formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. 

By studying extra about how these chemically completely different flames behave, scientists can develop more-efficient, less-polluting automobiles. 

  1. Area crops

Astronauts develop meals crops in area to seek out methods to maintain future explorers for long-duration area missions. Since packaged meals result in elevated weight of the launch automobile, and deteriorate when saved for longer durations, meals crops are grown in area to make sure that the dietary necessities of astronauts and cosmonauts are met. 

Packaged meals have decreased Vitamin C and Vitamin Ok, however area crops can present these vitamins to crew members. They will maintain future crews on the Moon and Mars. 

In 2021, NASA astronauts selected to domesticate peppers as they comprise a number of key vitamins and are a wonderful supply of Vitamin C. The crops are additionally strong with a superb probability of rising efficiently in microgravity. 

Peppers are self-pollinating, which makes the fruit simple to develop. These crops are simple to deal with in microgravity and might be harvested shortly. Most significantly, peppers don’t require cooking or complicated processing. 


Chilly peppers grown on the space station (Photo: NASA)
Chilly peppers grown on the area station (Photograph: NASA)

Peppers have low microbial ranges, and therefore, are secure for ISS crew members to devour. 

The experiment which grew chilly peppers in area in 2021 is named Plant Habitat-04. It is likely one of the most difficult and longest plant experiments carried out in area until date. 

NASA astronaut Mark T. Vande Hei harvested the station’s first crop of chilli peppers in October 2021.

NASA claimed the examine was essential as it can add to the area company’s information of rising meals crops for long-duration area missions.

The area company stated the goal of the experiment was to seek out methods to maintain future explorers for missions to locations past low-Earth orbit, throughout which there are restricted alternatives for resupply missions.

With a purpose to handle completely different challenges and complement their diets with recent meals, astronauts have grown and consumed ten completely different sorts of meals crops on the orbiting laboratory since 2015.

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