Team targets disease with ISS lab

Hoping to better the lives of patients with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, science teacher Amy McCormick and select students have created a project that soon will be flown to the International Space Station.

People who have ALS have a synapsis where instead of getting bits of glutamate from their diet breaking it down so it can be recycled from the body, it builds up until the neurons die and the muscles give out.

McCormick and the team are hoping that more glutamate breaks down in microgravity than it does here on Earth. However, they weren’t able to use the actual amino acid of glutamate due to the need for it to be stored in -20 degrees Celsius conditions. The experiment may have to sit on the launchpad for a while before going up, and without a freezer, there would be no way to keep the glutamate at the correct temperature. Instead, the team came up with a model that would act similar to the real thing.

“We are going to be testing the breakdown of proteins in gelatin,” McCormick said. “It’s [the experiment] kind of like a glow stick – like, you know how the glow stick has a little glass vial inside and you break it and then shake it? Well, basically our thing is like a glow stick, but instead of one vial inside, it has two. So you put the papain in one, and on the outside you have to have the gelatin. So when he astronauts are ready, they will snap and shake it so that starts a reaction – and we’ll do it at the same time on earth, so when they do, it we do it. Then in two days when we end the reaction, there’s vitamin C in the other vial, and then you snap that one and as soon as you shake it that stops the reaction. And you actually get it back so you can compare them.”

The scientists will make absolutely certain that the reactions are stopped at the same time, since if it wasn’t, then any changes could easily be because of reentry or time instead of the microgravity itself.

“In the experiment, you’ve got an active site and when the substrate attaches, and there’s a shape change. And so on earth, if you have gravity affecting something, than it’s going to affect the shape,” McCormick said. “But if you’re in space and there’s no gravity, were hoping it’ll be way more efficient and instead of the shape changing, the glutamate will break down, and way faster.”

By Ashleigh Rabel