NanoRacks-Egypt Against Hepatitis C Virus Microgravity Protein Crystal Growth (NanoRacks-EGAHEP) - 08.23.18

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

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Science Objectives for Everyone
NanoRacks-Egypt Against Hepatitis C Virus Microgravity Protein Crystal Growth (NanoRacks-EGAHEP) is the first Egyptian microgravity protein crystal growth mission on the International Space Station. Egypt has the world’s highest number of individuals infected with hepatitis C, a contagious disease that attacks the liver. This investigation, a Space Florida ISS Research Competition winner, uses the microgravity environment to crystallize the proteins that make up the hepatitis C virus, improving understanding of the virus and how it replicates.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Akram Abdellatif, M.Sc., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: Module-19 S/N 1002

Principal Investigator(s)
Akram Abdellatif, M.Sc., German Aerospace Center, Wessling, Germany

Hanaa Gaber, Institute of Virology, Technical University Munich (TUM), Munich, Germany

Institute of Virology, Technical University Munich, Munich, Germany
Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology, Lowell, MA, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory (NL)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2014 - March 2015

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
No previous Egyptian microgravity PCG missions, however the MPCS was used before in the March 2013 Launch.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Egypt is reported to have the highest number of infected individuals worldwide with the hepatitis C virus.
  • Protein crystallization in a microgravity environment may produce clear and large crystals, which can help the study of virus properties.
  • Studying the hepatitis C virus is a primary national research goal of Egypt.

Hepatitis C is defined as a worldwide problem. It is estimated by the World Health Organization that 170 million individuals worldwide are infected with hepatitis C.  About 150 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV), and more than 350,000 people die every year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases. Every year, 3–4 million people are infected with the hepatitis C virus.  Egypt is reported to have the highest number of infected individuals worldwide due to the use of contaminated parental antischistosomal therapy.  The percentage of infection in Egypt is about 18% (estimated 2005), more than 11 million people.  The goal of NanoRacks-Egypt Against Hepatitis C Virus Microgravity Protein Crystal Growth (NanoRacks-EGAHEP), a Space Florida ISS Research Competition winner, is to produce an International Space Station (ISS) HCV developed protein crystal to understand the virus behavior or its replication techniques in a much better way.
Protein can be in a solution state only up to a certain concentration. When this concentration is reached, the solution can no longer remain homogeneous. And as a result of that the protein appears in a new physical state. This phenomenon represents the basis of all protein crystallization experiments. By changing the solution conditions, the crystallographer tries to exceed the solubility limit of the protein so as to produce crystals. This procedure is very complicated and seldom runs free of errors. After changing the solution conditions, several challenges can be encountered as:  no change, i.e., the protein solution remains homogeneous, or a new physical phase appears, not a crystal but instead, it is an aggregate, liquid or crystals form, but they are unsuitable for structure determination as they present a poor X-ray diffraction pattern.
It is possible to overcome these difficulties by repeating crystallization attempts with many different conditions (environment, procedures, etc.).  This strategy does not always work. If a successful attempt is reached it cannot be generalized as the conditions that work with one protein do not necessary produce the same results for another protein. The problems associated with producing protein crystals have stimulated fundamental research on protein crystallization. One of the techniques used, is to perform the crystallization experiment in a microgravity environment.  Gravity is considered a non-preferable condition for protein crystallization as it gives rise to convection in the samples. Some of the experiments in microgravity produce better results than the ground base experiments, but this is not always the case. The physicochemical aspects of protein crystallization in reduced-gravity environments have been investigated with the Advanced Protein Crystallization Facility (APCF) during previous space missions. A statistical analysis reveals that about half of the crystals produced under microgravity had a superior X-ray diffraction limit with respect of terrestrial controls. Eleven protein structures could be determined at previously unachieved resolutions using crystals obtained in the APCF.

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Space Applications
Crystallizing proteins can be simpler in space, where gravity does not interfere with crystal structure. NanoRacks-EGAHEP uses the unique microgravity environment of the ISS to possibly produce large, high-quality protein crystals for studying hepatitis C. In addition, the investigation is the first protein crystal growth mission designed and conceived by Egyptian researchers, fostering a new connection between the African nation and international space programs.

Earth Applications
Crystallizing proteins enables researchers to study them in three dimensions, unraveling the molecular compounds involved in protein structure and function. NanoRacks-EGAHEP may produce a large, clear crystalline version of the proteins comprising hepatitis C so researchers can study the virus with X-ray diffraction techniques. This provides new insight into virus structure, behavior and replication techniques. A greater understanding of these processes leads to new methods for treating or preventing viral infection.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
The protein crystal growth in the CrystalCards™ automatically initiates on-orbit when the cards thaw. At least one photographic analysis session with the CrystalCards™ and the NanoRacks Microscopes facility is conducted to collect data on crystal growth.  After the session is completed, the CrystalCards™ are re-stowed.
NanoRacks Module-19 is stowed in a GLACIER at -95°C.  Crew removes the module from Glacier and places it inside NanoRacks Platform-1.  Thaw and crystal growth occur without crew interaction.  The crew observes crystal growth status on the slides using a NanoRacks microscope.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Results Publications

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

    Gaber H, Abdellatif A, Janweski R, Carruthers, Jr. CW, Niessing D, Protzer U.  Liver research in the International Space Station. Arab Journal of Gastroenterology. 2016 September 19; 17(3): 111-112. DOI: 10.1016/j.ajg.2016.08.001. PMID: 27658327.

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Related Websites
Technische Universität München
Institute of Virology at the Helmholtz Zentrum München

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image The NanoRacks-Egypt Against Hepatitis C Virus Microgravity Protein Crystal Growth (NanoRacks-EGAHEP) Official Mission Patch.  Image courtesy of Akram Abdellatif.
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