Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham) today announced that two of the Institute's research teams have won Space Florida's International Space Station (ISS) Research Competition. Eight teams were selected from a pool of international applicants to send experiments to space in late 2013. The competition was initiated by Space Florida, the state's spaceport and aerospace authority, and NanoRacks, LLC. Sanford-Burnham's research will fly as payloads to the ISS aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle and research will be conducted on board the U.S. National Lab at the ISS.
Using fruit flies to study space travel's effect on astronaut cardiovascular systems
Fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) will be taken to the ISS in one experiment, led by Sanford-Burnham's Rolf Bodmer, Ph.D., and Karen Ocorr, Ph.D., Peter Lee, Ph.D., at Stanford University, and Sharmila Bhattacharya, Ph.D., at NASA Ames Research Center. These organisms are ideal for modeling human heart health. They are small, easy to care for, and their genetics are well understood. In addition, flies and humans share many of the same genetic and molecular mechanisms involved in heart development and function.
Spaceflight is well-known to have a detrimental effect on the cardiovascular system. These new Drosophila experiments at the ISS will increase our understanding of how spaceflight affects the cardiovascular system. Ultimately, the work could lead to countermeasures to prevent or treat heart problems-both in space and on land.
In the experiment, 16 groups of 25-30 Drosophila will be flown to the ISS for approximately 30 days, along with identical ground controls. The Drosophila will be self-sufficient, requiring no astronaut intervention during the flight. The samples will be retrieved post-flight and studied using a system for analyzing fly heart function that was developed at Sanford-Burnham.
"Understanding the effects of microgravity on heart function will be important for keeping astronauts healthy during extended stays in space. There is evidence that spaceflight results in cardiac dysfunction, including decreases in contractility, increases in cardiac arrhythmias, and alterations in cardiac cell structure, all of which affect the output of the hearts of astronauts even after they return to Earth's gravity," explained Bodmer, professor and director of the Development and Aging Program at Sanford-Burnham. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to test our hypothesis."
Analyzing molecular processes in microgravity