CASIS Announces First Grants for Protein Crystallization Projects could lead to new treatments for Human Disease


image The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the nonprofit organization promoting and managing research on board the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, today announced its first research grant awards totaling $1.2 million for three projects advancing protein crystallization in microgravity.

The winning experiments, which could lead to breakthroughs in treating human disease, were chosen from 16 submissions in response to CASIS' first solicitation in June for proposals in the field of protein crystallography. Crystallography is the technique used to determine three-dimensional structures of protein molecules. Protein crystallization, when performed in space, may produce larger, better-organized crystals, allowing more focused drug development. The Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued after a panel of life science experts reviewed 136 experiments flown in space over the last decade and identified protein crystallization as one of the most promising areas of microgravity research.

The winners and the projects are as follows:

* Dr. Stephen Aller, from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, whose proposal will seek to crystallize human membrane proteins that could accelerate the commercialization of next generation drugs to treat AIDS-related dementia, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, cystic fibrosis, and multi-drug resistance as it relates to cancer.

* Dr. Pamela Bjorkman, from the California Institute of Technology, will focus crystallization research on Huntington's disease. No progress has been made terrestrially in solving the crystal structure of the protein critical to the pathogenesis of Huntington's disease. A high-resolution structure developed as a result of crystallization on the ISS would have significant scientific and medical impact for exploration of the structural basis for neural toxicity, and for development of rationally designed treatments for Huntington's disease and other related polyglutamine repeat disorders, such as spinocerebellar ataxia.

* Dr. Joseph Ng, from iXpressGenes Inc., proposes growing large protein crystals for neutron diffraction studies. Neutron diffraction is a method used to determine the structures of proteins, but the method requires larger crystals to work effectively. This study could show that microgravity is the only avenue to obtain appropriately-sized crystals for neutron diffraction studies and could result in a highly profitable service model for the ISS.

"It is our hope that through today's RFP awardees, research on Station will create breakthroughs to combat human diseases and create a high level of return on investment for the American taxpayer," said CASIS Interim Chief Scientist Dr. Timothy Yeatman.

Final award of the grant money is contingent upon acceptance of legal terms and conditions between recipients and CASIS. CASIS is also in the process of contacting those who received high scores in the evaluation process to discuss other opportunities to fund and fly their research to Station.

"We are committed to making sure that groundbreaking science gets to the ISS National Lab and that the ISS is fully utilized," said CASIS Interim Executive Director Jim Royston.

For additional information about CASIS opportunities, including instructions on submitting a proposal, continue to check the CASIS solicitations site: www.iss-casis.org/solicitations.

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About CASIS: The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) was selected by NASA in July 2011 to maximize use of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory through 2020. CASIS is dedicated to supporting and accelerating innovations and new discoveries that will enhance the health and wellbeing of people and our planet. The CASIS goal is to bring the magic of space down to earth. For more information, visit www.iss-casis.org.

About the ISS National Laboratory: In 2005, Congress designated the U.S. portion of the International Space Station as the nation's newest national laboratory to maximize its use for improving life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users and advancing STEM education. This unique laboratory environment is available for use by other U.S. government agencies and by academic and private institutions, providing access to the permanent microgravity setting, vantage point in low earth orbit and varied environments of space. The ISS National Laboratory Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center currently facilitates research initiatives on board the station's National Lab, but management of America's only in-orbit laboratory is transitioning to CASIS.

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