SpaceX Dragon launch on June 29, cancer fighting drug, algae and mice to reach ISS

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Representational Image
Representational Image

New Delhi : The quest to discover cancer curing drugs will move a step ahead when SpaceX scientists will carry algae, mice and cancer fighting drugs into the International Space Station. The aerospace company will launch its next cargo resupply mission to the ISS on June 29. It is possible that at 5:41 a.m. EST (0941 GMT), a previously used Dragon cargo ship will lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, carrying a fresh batch of research experiments and supplies to the orbital outpost. This flight will be SpaceX 12th launch this year.

"The research presented here today represents but a few of the hundreds of experiments that will be supported by this cargo resupply mission," David Brady, assistant program scientist for the International Space Station Program at NASA's Johnson Space Center, said during the teleconference. 

Paul Jaminet, a former Harvard astrophysicist turned entrepreneur, and his chief scientist, Shou-Ching Jaminet, expect to bring a significant breakthrough in the field of cancer treatment. Their experiment, dubbed Angiex, explores how endothelial cells meaning cells that line the blood vessels in the body respond not only to microgravity but also to a novel tumor targeting drug.

On the earth, the test has proven to be incredibly effective in mice. The drug not only targets tumors but also the blood vessels that support them. Much like healthy cells in cases of heart attack or stroke, when the blood vessels connected to a tumor die, the tumor dies along with it.

In spite of its proven success, one the biggest concerns with the drug is safety. Because it targets both tumors and the blood vessels supporting them, the researchers don't want damage of any healthy blood vessels in the process. "We very much want to cure people's cancer, but do not want them to go on to die from cardiovascular disease from our drug," explained Jaminet.

Conversely, the big challenge is that there is no good in vitro cell culture model for blood vessels. So, to understand how blood vessels function, one has to conduct vivo studies on live animals. "And you can't see inside the cells very well," Jaminet said. 

Experts want to observe to observe the growth of this type of cell in microgravity which is possible in space station, according to the NASA project page.

A previous experiment has shown that endothelial cells do not grow very well in space. So, this observation will further explore how endothelial cells grow in a microgravity environment and measure how those cells respond to the treatment.

"We will be treating these cells in space with our drug. We can see if the response to the drug is different in microgravity than it is on the ground," Jaminet said during the call. "And if it is, then that would be really interesting biology."

As part of the study, a team of 20 brave moustronauts will fly to the space station in order to help researchers better understand the brain-gut connection. Fred Turek and Martha Vitaterna, researchers from Northwestern University, are the principal investigators for theRodent Research-7 mission, which will explore how the space environment affects the community of microorganisms, dubbed microbiota  in the gastrointestinal tract of mice.

"It's hard to imagine how you can get excited about fecal samples," Vitaterna joked during the teleconference. "But believe me, we are really excited about fecal samples." She went on to explain that examining bacteria in fecal samples is a good way to map the types of bacteria that are in the gut itself.

Sources confirmed that this would be the longest spaceflight experiment for rodents to date, allowing researchers to look at what the long-term changes are in response to spaceflight. But they're not just looking at the gastrointestinal tract's microbiome. They will also be analysing at a variety of other physiological systems known to respond to or influence the response of the gut microbiome, like the immune system, metabolism and circadian rhythm, the latter of which drives sleep.

The researchers are expecting comprehensive picture from their upcoming project. Let’s wait till any update reaches the earth from the ISS.