Three Scientists Awarded For Their Research On ISS
July 16, 2013

Three Scientists Awarded For Their Space Station Research

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Three scientists were honored today for their research on the International Space Station (ISS) at the second annual ISS Research and Development Conference.

The individuals presented their research during the conference, kick-starting a week of discussions about research being performed aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Thomas Lang, Ph.D., professor of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California San Francisco, received a team award recognizing results on Preventing Bone Loss in Long-Duration Spaceflight. This study was named a "Top Discovery"  on the ISS in 2012.

Lang and his colleagues discovered that astronauts spending time aboard the space station were coming home with an average of 10.8 percent bone loss. Following the crew members around for a yea after landing, they found that the astronauts only regained 8.1 percent bone back. The professor said during the conference that astronauts also experienced bone architecture changes, with some individuals experiencing changes similar to those seen in 70-year-olds.

Research like Lang's is crucial in determining how astronauts will fair in future long-duration missions to Mars. Lang said at the conference that a combination of emerging osteoporosis medications, such as Alendronate, and exercise might be the key to preventing bone loss during future missions.

"With this research, we can better understand how bone changes throughout life, in growth and aging, and how to prevent outcomes such as age-related bone fractures," said Lang. "This award nicely recognizes the community of NASA and academic researchers in carrying out research to define the extent and characteristics of bone loss in spaceflight and in developing exercise- and drug-based approaches to attack the problem. I am privileged to accept this award on behalf of the researchers who have contributed their hard work and expertise to this critical medical issue."

Vedha Nayagam, Ph.D., National Center for Space Exploration Research/Case Western Reserve University, received recognition for his Cool Flames in Space results. For this experiment, astronauts aboard the space station looked at how flames behaved in space. Nayagam and colleagues discovered that small droplets of heptane burning inside the Flame Extinguishment Experiment (FLEX) combustion chamber continued to burn fuel even when the flame seemed to be out. This led the team to discover that the flames transformed into "cool flames," which were burning at relatively low temperatures when compared to visible fire.

Nayagam and his colleagues' research on cool flames was also named a Top Discovery on the ISS in 2012.

Millie Hughes-Fulford, Ph.D., San Francisco Veterans Administration Hospital and University of California San Francisco, shared the same recognition as Nayagam and Lang for her research on T-cell Activation in Space. When astronauts return to Earth, scientists have found that their immune systems have weakened, making them more susceptible to sickness. Hughes-Fulford and colleagues found a specific transmitter in the immune cells stopped working in weightlessness.

The T-cell research could help people suffering from autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, as well as helping the pharmaceutical industry find genes that need to be active in order to fight specific illnesses and to market tailored antibodies.

"The ultimate goal of what we're doing when looking at the bioinformatics is to use that discovery for immune diseases here on Earth," said Hughes-Fulford. "This work is not just for astronauts going to Mars, though of course we will benefit them too."

She said the end goal is to find new control points that scientists have yet to see in the immune system on Earth.

All three presentations made during the conference today show how essential the space station is for scientific research. The ISS is a unique laboratory for scientists to use with conditions that can't be replicated due to gravity on Earth.

"These selected awardees bring exciting results from their space station investigations that are contributing to our knowledge of the laws of physics in space leading to new spaceflight design possibilities and of our bodies response to spaceflight helping with countermeasures to let us further explore space," said Allyson Thorn, assistant International Space Station Program scientist.