April 28, 2009

NASA to study antifungal drugs in space

The U.S. space agency says it plans to launch a small satellite about the size of a loaf of bread to study how effectively drugs work in space.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration nanosatellite, known as PharmaSat, is a secondary payload aboard a U.S. Air Force four-stage Minotaur 1 rocket planned to be launched May 5.

PharmaSat weighs approximately 10 pounds, NASA said. It contains a controlled environment micro-laboratory packed with sensors and optical systems that can detect the growth, density and health of yeast cells and transmit that data to scientists for analysis on Earth. PharmaSat also will monitor the levels of pressure, temperature and acceleration the yeast and the satellite experience while circling Earth at 17,000 miles per hour.

Space agency scientists will study how the yeast responds during and after an anti-fungal treatment is administered at three dosage levels to learn more about drug action in space.

PharmaSat is an important experiment that will yield new information about the susceptibility of microbes to antibiotics in the space environment, said David Niesel, PharmaSat's co-investigator from the University of Texas Medical Branch. It also will prove that biological experiments can be conducted on sophisticated autonomous nanosatellites.

The Minotaur 1 rocket will lift off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport located at Wallops Island, Va.