NASA along with the University of Southern California (USC) is planning to send fungi to space as part of an experiment to develop new drugs for use both on Earth and in orbit. The SpaceX CRS-8 mission set for launch on April 8 from Cape Canaveral will carry a fungus called Aspergillus nidulans to the International Space Station (ISS) for experiments in the stressful environment.
Scientists say previous experiments based on Earth have shown that the high-radiation and microgravity conditions typical of the environment in space could help them create new medicines to treat diseases like cancer and Alzheimer.
The cargo mission’s payload will also carry an expandable habitat named BEAM, which means Bigelow Expandable Activity Module.
Called Micro-10, the experiment will be the first ever in which scientists will grow fungi inside ISS as an attempt to discover new medicines. Kasthuri “Venkat” Venkateswaran, senior research scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), hopes his team can have a breakthrough in space biology through the ambitious project.
“NASA needs to develop self-sustaining measures to keep humans healthy in space because calling 911 is not an option”, Venkateswaran commented, as quoted by Headlines & Global News.
If successful, the experiment could result in new ways to improve life on Earth and benefit future space explorations
The research team has extensively examined the fungus and realized that it has the potential to produce 40 different types of drugs, according to Clay Wang, who teaches pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences, as well as chemistry at the USC School of Pharmacy and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Wang explained that Aspergillus nidulans can produce osteoporosis drugs, which could be very helpful to astronauts because they experience bone loss when they spend some time in space.
The experiment will consist of researchers increasing nidulans’ temperature from 39 degrees Fahrenheit to 98.6 degrees so the organism can begin to grow. Within seven days the four different strains of the fungus will be put back into cold storage until they return to Earth 30 days later. Then researchers will be able to compare the space organism to a control group known locally.
As concluded by Wang, this will mark the first project to involve a joint study of pharmaceutical and space experts. Because usual medicines have an expiration date, astronauts involved in NASA’s mission to Mars will need drugs which last for up to three years. He said the opportunity to develop drugs in space will benefit forthcoming space explorations by allowing the human kind to go further away from the blue planet.
Source: CBS News