The experiment will be carried to the International Space Station inside a specially designed incubator called Kubik, which was made to fit precisely under the cosmonaut's seat in the Soyuz spacecraft. Kubik contains a compartment for weightless experiments as well as a centrifuge that can accelerate cells in a range from 0.2 to 2 earth gravities.
On board the space station, European Space Agency astronaut-scientist Thomas Reiter will simultaneously activate T-cells in the weightless compartment and in the centrifuge for four hours. "By activating the cells, he'll be simulating the activation that normally occurs in response to infection," Hughes-Fulford explains. "He'll be setting up the whole cascade that would normally turn on the T-cells. Except we know that some of the genes will not turn on because they're in a weightless environment."
At the end of the experiment, the T-cells will be safely packaged and then sent back to Earth aboard the returning Soyuz craft. In her VA lab in San Francisco, Hughes-Fulford will analyze the results.
"Our expectation is that the T-cells in the centrifuge ?basically, under artificial gravity ?will be activated normally, and the T-cells in microgravity will not be activated," she predicts. "We will compare them side by side and discover, for the first time, exactly which genes did not turn on in microgravity."
Hughes-Fulford placed an earlier version of the same experiment aboard the space shuttle Columbia on shuttle mission STS-107. At the end of that mission on February 1, 2003, the Columbia broke up upon reentry into Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven crew members and destroying all experiments aboard.
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Source:University of California - San Francisco