Making strides for human health is a passion for scientists who devote their studies to the pursuit of progress towards life changing treatments. Highlighting achievements in International Space Station (ISS) top microgravity research based medical advancements leading to Earth applications was the focus of the third plenary panel at the second annual ISS Research and Development Conference.
Three individuals accepted honors in recognition for their work in this category on the morning of July 17, taking part in the conference plenary panel to share their research:
Gregor Morfill, Ph.D., director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, in recognition of outstanding results on Plasma Applications for Wound Healing from PK-3 Plus – named a Top Medical Application from the International Space Station for 2012.
Garnette Sutherland, M.D., University of Calgary, in recognition of outstanding results on Advancing Neurosurgery through Space Technology – named a Top Medical Application from the International Space Station for 2012.
Louis Stodieck, Ph.D., BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado at Boulder, recipient of a team award on behalf of and in recognition of outstanding results from bone and muscle loss studies with pharmaceutical company Amgen – named a Top Discovery on the International Space Station for 2012.
“These selected awardees are implementing key medical research results to improve our health and medical technology in space and on Earth,” said Allyson Thorn, assistant International Space Station Program scientist.
The plenary panel, moderated by CASIS Research Pathway Manager Mike Roberts, showcased key scientific medical advances and contributions benefiting human health on Earth.
Thomas Hubertus, Ph.D., accepted this award on behalf of Morfill and the PK-3 Plus team of researchers who worked together to advance knowledge on the nature of plasma crystals, as collected in an organization known as complex, or dusty, plasma. “I am of course overjoyed that both the research in space and its application spin off on Earth has received this kind of recognition,” said Morfill, who was unable to attend the conference in person. “I am also happy that the award will cement the connection between our research on the [space station] and the hygiene and medical applications on Earth.”
The plasma research done by Morfill has cutting edge application potential for Earth benefits from pharmaceutical to farming. Clinical trials show that the unique state of dusty plasma can speed up healing in wounds, aid in cancer treatments and neutralize drug-resistant bacteria; it even has applications to increase plant growth. “The areas of plasma drug action and, in combination, plasma aided drug delivery and plasma enhanced drug action are the medical topics of today and tomorrow,” said Morfill. “In hygiene, everything from personal, professional, and food hygiene to planetary protection are targets. In agriculture no less than the world hunger problem and environment protection are the issues.”
A team led by Sutherland at the University of Calgary, along with MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, developed NeuroArm based on the Canadian Space Agency’s Canadarm2 and Dextre robotic space station technology. This robotic tool provides precise, dexterous and tremor-free assistance with life-changing surgical aid for cancer patients with complex brain tumors. It also is MRI compatible, allowing surgeons to operate with greater accuracy while viewing real-time imagery. “This translation of technology enables us to make the best use of research and development resources by finding solutions to medical problems in technological advances from aerospace,” said Sutherland.
Sutherland considers the honor a nod to the collaborative efforts that were necessary to develop this image-guided robot for neurosurgery. “I would like to express my gratitude for the honor of winning the award and really emphasize that neuroArm was created through a community effort,” said Sutherland.
“From the philanthropists and funding bodies who make research possible to the interdisciplinary teams of engineers, scientists and surgeons who build and test the technology, it takes many people working together to achieve a technological innovation of this magnitude,” continued Sutherland. “This award also recognizes the creativity required to translate technology developed specifically for one field—space—and apply it into an unrelated field in a unique and practical fashion; our project has successfully brought Canadarm and [Dextre] technology into the operating room.”
The Commercial Biomedical Test Module (CBTM, CBTM-2 and CBTM-3-Sclerostin Antibody/CBTM-3-Vascular Atrophy) investigations used a validated mouse model to examine possible countermeasures for bone- and muscular-related ailments. Findings from these studies may make a real difference in the health treatments of people on Earth. “I believe that the results from the Amgen-sponsored investigations have proven exciting,” said Stodieck. “Insight gained from this work helped increase our understanding of how different muscle- and bone-signaling pathways are affected by disuse and how these pathways can be blocked to prevent bone loss or muscle atrophy. The results are directly applicable to bone disease, including osteoporosis and to muscle wasting diseases, such as muscular dystrophy, frailty from aging and rapid muscle loss from cancer, kidney failure and other diseases.”
In accepting the award, Stodieck acknowledged the colleagues who contributed to the planning, design and execution of the investigations. “On behalf of all the many collaborators who made these studies possible, it is truly an honor to be recognized with this award,” said Stodieck. “It has been a privilege to be a part of these three spaceflight research investigations. We hope that the results from these studies will help lead to more effective treatments for muscle and bone diseases here on Earth. We also hope our results will further demonstrate the benefit of conducting rodent model research in microgravity and that other biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies will take advantage of this completely unique and high-value testing environment in the future.”
Additional award categories for these space station achievements represented during the other conference plenary panels include top benefits and applications in Earth science, materials and education; top technology applications enabling exploration; and top discoveries in microgravity. The overall theme of the conference for 2013 is Discoveries, Applications and Opportunities. The conference is organized by the American Astronautical Society (AAS) in cooperation with NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS).