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On a recent resupply mission, SpaceX’s-Dragon spacecraft carried numerous important items for scientific research to the International Space Station (ISS). The Dragon spacecraft separated from Falcon 9 and landed autonomously on the space station on Wednesday, December 22 2021, around 4:30 a.m., and will remain there for a month.
Among the 6500 pounds of materials that the spacecraft launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida were supplies for the crew, a skin bioprinter, and even a detergent.
Skin Bioprinting Bandages
Skin bioprinting is a new approach for creating artificial skin from natural and synthetic building blocks. This process uses biological molecules and cell viability (a measure of live and healthy cells in a population) to print tissue structures. Skin reconstruction via burns is one of the applications of bioprinting that has been developing in the past years. However, it still needs a large bioprinter to print a tissue, allow it to mature, and then implant onto the patient. To solve this, a portable bioprinter is needed.
A study, Bioprint FirstAid, conducted at the German Aerospace Center illustrated a small and portable bioprinter that uses a patient’s skin cells to increase the wound healing process by creating a tissue patch over the wound to stop the leakage. On further missions, these patches can help to heal wounds that occur in space as well as on Earth and provide a safer and convenient option for treatment.
Improving Drug Delivery in Cancer
Monoclonal antibodies are lab-made proteins that mimic the ability of the immune system to fight against disease-causing organisms. In the case of Cancer, monoclonal antibodies prevent cancerous cell growth in the body. Apart from that, these antibodies are useful to treat several other diseases, but the problem is that they are taken intravenously (within a vein) in a clinical setting, maybe at a hospital or clinic, as they do not dissolve in water due to their low solubility.
The researchers at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, U.S, are currently working on the experiment Protein Crystal Growth 20 (PCG 20) that focuses on crystallising pembrolizumab, a monoclonal antibody for cervical, gastrointestinal and lung cancer. It is the active ingredient in a drug called Keytruda that targets multiple cancers.
Scientists are trying to know more about the component to formulate a drug that can be administered easily on Earth or in space within seconds via injections without seeking any medical professional’s assistance.
Analysing Infection Risk
Scientists have noticed that spaceflight can cause mutations in microbes that increase their virulence and decrease the immunity of humans leading to infections. To understand the host-pathogen relationship better in space, scientists assess immune changes by collecting saliva and blood samples of the crew members before, during and after spaceflight and culturing the immune cells with bacteria grown under normal and spaceflight conditions. The results can help to fight against microbe virulence and improve care for those having a weak immune system.
Astronauts wear new clothes on the space station that are delivered to them on resupply missions. Limited cargo space has always been a challenge to these space missions, and resupply is not feasible every time. Therefore, Procter & Gamble has developed a degradable detergent, Tide Infinity specifically designed for removing stains in microgravity. However, research is still going on this product and will last for six months. Once it is approved, it can be used in space and also on Earth.
According to NASA’s Student Payload Opportunity with Citizen Science (SPOCS) program, students enrolled in the institutions can be part of their real-time experiments such as studying antibiotic resistance in microgravity, knowing how bacteria resistant polymers are affected in space, etc.
Students from K-12 are selected as citizen scientists for the space missions based on their proposal including, their previous exam scores, school or college projects, etc.
At NASA, their work includes providing baseline data, sorting data or comparing raw data to the experimental values provided by the space station.
The experiments are presently being conducted in space focusing on the areas of physical sciences, biotechnology, Earth and space science. Deep studies on these topics can help space travelers to maintain their health in microgravity. Plus, they can also help in robotic explorations to the Moon and Mars through NASA’s Artemis program.