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International space station plays host to innovative infectious disease research
Date:2/19/2013

Performing sensitive biological experiments is always a delicate affair. Few researchers, however, contend with the challenges faced by Cheryl Nickerson, whose working laboratory aboard the International Space Station (ISS) is located hundreds of miles above the Earth, traveling at some 17,000 miles per hour.

Nickerson, a microbiologist at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, is using the ISS platform to pursue new research into the effects of microgravity on disease-causing organisms.

Nickerson presented her research findings and charted the course for future investigations aboard the ISS on February 18 at the 2013 annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Boston, Mass. Her talk, entitled "Microgravity: A Novel Tool for Advances in Biomedical Research," is part of a special session devoted to ISS science.

"One important focus of my research is to use the microgravity environment of spaceflight as an innovative biomedical research platform. We seek to unveil novel cellular and molecular mechanisms related to infectious disease progression that cannot be observed here on Earth, and to translate our findings to novel strategies for treatment and prevention."

During an earlier series of NASA space shuttle and ground-based experiments, Nickerson and her team made a startling discovery. Spaceflight culture increased the disease-causing potential (virulence) of the foodborne pathogen Salmonella, yet many of the genes known to be important for its virulence were not turned on and off as expected when this organism is grown on Earth. Understanding how this switching is regulated may be useful for designing targeted strategies to prevent infection.

For NASA, Nickerson's findings were revelatory, given their implications for the health of astronauts on extended spaceflight missions. Already faced with the potential for compromised immunity induced by the rigors of
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Contact: Joseph Caspermeyer
Joseph.Caspermeyer@asu.edu
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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