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Wednesday, September 1, 2010
NIH awards grants to support biomedical research in space
The National Institutes of Health announced today that it has awarded the first new grants 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.
"Through this initiative, the NIH is proud to continue its longstanding partnership with NASA," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "We look forward to working with our NASA colleagues and other members of the ISS team to implement these unique experiments."
The National Laboratory at the ISS provides a virtually gravity-free — or 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 the NIH's National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, and NIH liaison to NASA. "The beauty of this initiative is that it offers an unprecedented opportunity for benefitting human health on earth, while leveraging the American public’s investment in the ISS."
NIH is hosting three rounds of competition for the BioMed-ISS initiative. The first round of grants for the ground-based phase — totaling an estimated $1,323,000 — has been awarded as follows:
Paola Divieti, M.D., Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Boston: Weight-bearing activities contribute to the development and maintenance of bone mass, while weightlessness and immobility — as experienced by the astronauts and bedridden and immobilized patients — can result in bone loss and a weakened skeleton. Osteocytes, the most common type of bone cell, are believed to have gravity-sensing abilities. These cells play a key role in bone remodeling, a process that is vital to skeletal health. In studying osteocytes in a gravity-free environment, Divieti aims to uncover new therapeutic targets for osteoporosis and related bone diseases.
Millie Hughes-Fulford, Ph.D., Northern California Institute for Research and Education, San Francisco: The immune system, which protects the body against foreign substances, is suppressed in space. A reduction in the immune response also occurs in the elderly, who, like the astronauts, are at increased risk for infection. As a former astronaut, Hughes-Fulford aims 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.
Declan McCole, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego: Excessive alcohol use is a leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the United States. A major factor in alcohol-related disease stems from the ability of alcohol to compromise the natural barrier function of cells in the gastrointestinal tract, increasing the movement of toxins from the intestines to other organs in the body. Using microgravity three-dimensional cell culture models, McCole plans to generate insights regarding the barrier properties of the intestines, and to explore how the absence of gravity affects alcohol's ability to diminish this barrier.
The NIH Institutes and Centers participating in BioMed-ISS include the National Cancer Institute, the National Center for Research Resources, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Information NIH and NASA activities can be found at http://www.niams.nih.gov/News_and_Events/NIH_NASA_Activities/default.asp.
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
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