Experiments headed to space station
San Francisco, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 10/08/2012 -- A team from Montana State University is sending research experiments to the International Space Station.
The director of the MSU Health Professions Advising Office and five students want to see how pathogenic yeast reacts in near-weightlessness.
“We’re working with a pathogenic organism that causes infection, so if we can better identify how infection occurs, as well as barricades to infection, it will be advantageous,” said Sheila Nielsen-Preiss, the advising office director who also has a research appointment.
The organism the team will study is Candida albicans, a yeast that lives in the human body, usually the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. The yeast can cause infections to the mouth, nails or vagina that usually are easy to treat.
A healthy immune system often will prevent infection by the pathogen, Nielsen-Preiss said. But in patients with weakened immune systems, those infections can be more serious – even deadly.
“Although astronauts are healthy individuals,” Nielsen-Press told the MSU News Service, “exposure to spaceflight affects their immune system and may reduce their ability to respond to infection.”
Learning more about the pathogen will help treat infections and other illnesses caused by the opportunistic yeast as well as help keep astronauts safe.
“Low-shear is a feature of both microgravity and some locations within the human body to which yeast may be responding,” Nielsen-Priess explained. “Understanding the response in one environment may help us predict the response in the other.”
The MSU team has been working for months to get the experiments ready. They will be transported to the space station by Dragon, a private capsule built by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. NASA has given the project $135,000.
James McKinney, an MSU student who has helped prepare the experiments, said they experience has taught him important research and collaborative skills. “It has also engaged me on a personal level,” McKinney said, “because I have to think for myself and come up with different ways of doing the experiments.”
McKinney, of Austin, Texas, is majoring in cell biology and neuroscience.
“It’s a unique opportunity for the students,” Nielsen-Priess said. “How many people can say they’ve worked on a flight experiment?”
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