Tuesday, September 7, 2010

NIH Supports Space Research

NIH awarded the first round of new grants totaling $1,323,000 under the “Biomedical Research on the International Space Station” (BioMed-ISS) initiative, a collaborative effort between NIH and NASA. Using a special microgravity environment that earth-based laboratories cannot replicate, researchers will explore fundamental questions about important health issues, such as how bones and the immune system get weak.

The National Laboratory at the ISS provides a virtually gravity free or referred to as microgravity environment where the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie human diseases can be explored.

Scientists will conduct their experiments under a two-stage mechanism. The first is a ground-based preparatory phase to allow investigators to meet select milestones and technical requirements. The second is an ISS experimental phase that will include preparing the experiments for launch, working with astronauts to conduct them on the ISS and performing subsequent data analyses on Earth.

“BioMed-ISS offers a novel opportunity for gaining scientific insights that would not otherwise be possible through ground-based means,” said Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D., Director of NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin diseases, and NIH’s liaison to NASA.

The first round of grants has been awarded to:

• Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston, to study osteocytes, the most common type of bone cell believed to have gravity-sensing abilities and to play a key role in bone remodeling

• Northern California Institute for Research and Education in San Francisco plans to apply lessons learned from studies of immune cells in microgravity to a new model for investigating the loss of immune response in older women and men

• University of California San Diego will study how alcohol can compromise the natural barrier function of cells in the gastrointestinal tract. This can increase the movement of toxins from the intestines to other organs in the body. The researchers will use microgravity three dimensional cell culture models to help generate insights into the barrier properties of the intestines and explore how the absence of gravity affects the alcohol’s ability to diminish this barrier.