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Vaccine Development
NLPV2 experiment aboard the International Space Station Astronaut John Phillips, STS-119 mission specialist, activates the MSRA experiment on the middeck of Space Shuttle Discovery. (Image credit: NASA) What was done on ISS The space environment has been shown to induce key changes in microbial cells that are directly relevant to infectious disease, including alterations of microbial growth rates, antibiotic resistance, microbial invasion of host tissue, organism virulence (the relative ability of a microbe to cause disease), and genetic changes within the microbe (Wilson et al., 2007, 2008). The targets identified from each of these microgravity-induced alterations represent an opportunity to develop new and improved therapeutics, including vaccines, as well as biological and pharmaceutical agents aimed specifically at eradicating the pathogen.

Research on Salmonella bacteria, led by Dr. Timothy Hammond at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Dr. Cheryl Nickerson at Arizona State University, has been conducted from 2006 to 2008 on space shuttle missions flown to the International Space Station. Collectively, this body of work has shown that the virulence of this organism increases in microgravity. Experiments conducted on the space shuttle in March and May 2009, have examined the virulence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) as well as other microbes.

NLPV2 experiment aboard the International Space Station Salmonella enteric serovar typhimurium. (Image credit: NASA) The studies of Salmonella and MRSA bacteria in space are part of the pathfinder program to demonstrate the use of the International Space Station as a research platform for commercial research and development. The pathfinder research approach uses a set of flight experiments to identify the components of the organisms that facilitate increased virulence in space, and then applies that information to pinpoint targets for anti-microbial therapeutics, including vaccines.

Significance: Discovering the factors responsible for growth and virulence of bacteria will contribute to the development of novel therapeutic treatments, including vaccines. In fact, Astrogenetix's space-based Salmonella research has resulted in the discovery of a potential candidate vaccine for this pathogen. Salmonella infection is one of the most common forms of food poisoning in the US. Worldwide, Salmonella diarrhea remains one of the top three causes of infant mortality, so a vaccine has the potential to make dramatic improvements in health for developing countries. Studies on bacterial virulence have also been extended to MRSA.

National Lab Pathfinder Vaccine Development experiment aboard the International Space Station The Group Activation Pack (GAP), manufactured by BioServe Space Technologies used to culture the bacteria in orbit. (Image credit: NASA) Benefits of ISS Research: This space-based research provides evidence that the International Space Station as a National Laboratory is a valuable resource that can be utilized for the benefit of Earth. Discovery of therapeutic targets for MRSA and Salmonella infections are examples of efforts to use the novel microgravity environment to develop new pharmaceutical agents, and as ISS nears its completion, there will be an increase in such opportunities to utilize the ISS National Laboratory as a platform for drug discovery. Overall, these results represent just a fraction of the possibilities of future microgravity discoveries.

Carpenter, BM, Hammond, TG, and Becker, JL. Commercial Biomedical Research on the International Space Station- A National Laboratory Pathfinder. 2009 (in review).
Wilson JW, Ott CW, Quick L , Davis R, Hoener zu Bentrup K, Crabbe A , Richter E, Sarker S, Barrila J, Porwollik S, Cheng P, McClelland M, Tsaprailis G, Radabaugh T, Hunt A, Shah M, Nelman-Gonzalez M, Hing S, Parra M, Dumars P, Norwood K, Bober R, Devich J, Ruggles A, CdeBaca A, Narayan S, Benjamin J, Goulart C, Rupert M, Catella L, Schurr MJ, Buchanan K, Morici L, McCracken J, Porter MD, Pierson DL, Smith SM, Mergeay M, Leys N, Stefanyshyn-Piper HM, Gorie D, Nickerson CA. Media Ion Composition Controls Regulatory and Virulence Response of Salmonella in Spaceflight. PLoS One. December, 2008 ;3(12).
Wilson JW, Ott CM, Hoener zu Bentrup K, Ramamurthy R, Quick L, Porwollik S, Cheng P, McClelland M, Tsaprailise G, Radabaugh T, Hunt A, Fernandez D, Richter E, Shah M, Kilcoyne M, Joshi L, Nelman-Gonzalez M, Hing S, Parra M, Dumars P, Norwood K, Bober R, Devich J, Ruggles A, Goulart C, Rupert M, Stodieck L, Stafford P, Catella L, Schurr MJ, Buchanan K, Morici L, McCracken J, Allen P, Baker-Coleman C, Hammond T, Vogel J, Nelson R, Pierson DL, Stefanyshyn-Piper HM, Nickerson CA. Space flight alters bacterial gene expression and virulence and reveals a role for global regulator Hfq. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2007 ;104(41):16299-16304.

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