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Out of this world: New study investigates infection of human cells in space
Date:4/2/2010

In a first-of-its-kind experiment, the unique conditions of spaceflight will be used to examine how cells remain healthy or succumb to disease, particularly in the face of stress or damage.

At 3:21 a.m. PDT on April 5, 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 on mission STS-131.The goals of the team's research are to provide fundamental new insight into the infectious disease process, and further undestanding 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 Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, "is the novel way that cells adapt and respond to the unique microgravity environment of spaceflight. In response to microgravity, cells exhibit important biological characteristics that are directly relevant to human health and disease, including changes in immune function, stress responses, and virulence (infectious disease potential) that are not observed using traditional experimental approaches."

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.
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Contact: Joe Caspermeyer
joseph.caspermeyer@asu.edu
480-727-0369
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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