Science in Short: Station Offers Diverse Research Opportunities

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NASA astronaut Kate Rubins (L) and JAXA astronaut Takuya Onishi participated in the ESA Airway Monitoring investigation last week. Credits: NASA

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins (L) and JAXA astronaut Takuya Onishi (R) participated in the ESA Airway Monitoring investigation last week. Credits: NASA

Three dramatically different experiments on the International Space Station last week show what an amazing and diverse platform we have for technology demonstrations, improving health on Earth and helping us understand our place in the universe.

Last Friday the first operations of a technology demonstration experiment called the Long Duration Sorbent Testbed (LDST) began on the orbiting laboratory. This project is an example of the way we are making the space station a place to quickly test new technologies that are important for future space exploration. It exposes desiccants and CO2 sorbents to the station atmosphere for about a year before returning them to Earth to be analyzed. The effort was completed under an engineering process we call 1E that allows streamlined certifications and rules that keep the station and crew safe, but reduce paperwork, turnaround time and costs. These are a model for ways to better do new experiments and fly new kinds of hardware.

Kate Rubins and Takuya Onishi completed an ambient environment session of the ESA Airway Monitoring (Airway Monitoring) experiment. This experiment studies airway inflammation which can be caused by being in a closed environment, and could be much worse someday on future missions to the moon or Mars. A special small monitor measures the nitrous oxide (NO) that is exhaled by each crew member. The European technology built for this experiment is also being used in asthma centers back here on Earth in a device called NIOX MINO™ which helps to measure the level of airway inflammation in patients here on earth.

A bright meteor is seen on July 15, over Tasmania.

A bright meteor is seen on July 15, over Tasmania.

Word has also come to us from the Meteor project team that they have captured their first observation of a meteor re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. The Meteor instrument currently on the space station is the third unit built, as the first two were lost on Orb-3 Cygnus and Space X-7. The first images of re-entering meteors were captured in late July. The METEOR camera has a special filter that allows determining the atomic emission lines of the major elements so not only does it see the flash of light when a meteor re-enters Earth’s atmosphere, it can tell scientists what the meteor is made of. Iron, calcium, magnesium or sodium elements can all be detected. Southwest Research Institute collaboratied with the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan to fly the instrument, and we are currently working with the investigators on a English-language press release. See more images at the Japanese image gallery online.

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

Science in Short: Building a Better Gas Trap

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PBRE is is the largest, most complex experiment installed in the MSG to date. Credits: NASA

PBRE is is the largest, most complex experiment installed in the MSG to date. Credits: NASA

The Packed Bed Reactor Experiment (PBRE) was installed in the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) this week, and is the largest, most complex experiment installed in the MSG to date. When the gas-control module did not power up properly, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra helped to quickly identify the problem, which involved a foam piece imbedded in a connector. Kopra also helped trouble-shoot a video camera for the gas-liquid separator. After two days of setup, all systems in the PBRE are now operating as expected.

During subsequent testing, PBRE found that the gas flow provided by the MSG was not as high as desired. The team is still evaluating if the test matrix will need to be modified. Initial testing this week includes some preliminary flows to flood the column with water and then introduce low gas flows to observe viscous fingering within the porous media (similar to water injected into oil wells to enhance flows).

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Next week, PBRE will begin a series of tests to determine minimum flows to remove bubbles from the reactor bed. This is a serious concern encountered by most reactor beds in microgravity, since gravity is not available to drive the bubbles to the top of the reactor. Our results will provide guidelines to design and operating beds to prevent bubble accumulation.
In space, water-recovery systems, fuel cells and other equipment use packed bed reactors, but currently none are designed to handle both liquid and gas at the same time. With improved understanding of how packed bed two-phase flow works in microgravity, scientists are be able to design more efficient, lightweight thermal management and life support systems that use less energy, benefiting the Space Station as well as future lunar and Mars missions.

On Earth, design rules for gas-liquid flows through packed columns are well developed, but lacking for reduced or zero gravity. PBRE seeks to fill this knowledge gap by studying the hydrodynamics of gas-liquid flows in zero gravity through packed columns. By understanding how gravity affects gas-liquid flows through packed columns (or packed beds, as they are known in the industry) better, more predictive correlations for pressure drops and flow regime maps can be developed with the proper gravity-dependent terms included.

David Brady Assistant ISS Program Scientist

David Brady
Assistant ISS Program Scientist

Science in Short: A Milestone in Human Research

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Lead Expedition Scientist Yuri Guinart-Ramirez presented the following research highlights at the 45 Soyuz Return/47 Soyuz Launch And Dock Stage Operations Readiness Review held on June 2.

European Space Agency (ESA) Tim Peake, performs Ocular Health fundoscope exam aboard the International Space Station. Credits: NASA

European Space Agency (ESA) Tim Peake, performs Ocular Health fundoscope exam aboard the International Space Station. Credits: NASA

We know human spaceflight is entrenched with dangers and risk to our astronauts, from their vision and eye health, to their musculoskeletal system and immune system, among many other risks. Did you know that out of 36 long-duration crew members, there were 15 clinical cases detected with issues related to vision? In other words, 41.6% of long-duration crew members developed vision issues with various degrees of symptoms. That is a high percentage. Understanding these and the many other effects that microgravity has on the body is key for us to continue to venture beyond low-Earth orbit and be more successful on long-duration spaceflight. We want to go further into space, and so we must answer these fundamental medical issues and continue develop more effective countermeasures.

The good news is that we are getting a little closer.

The upcoming return of 45S will mark the completion of the in-flight portion for four NASA investigations in the Human Research category – Ocular Health, Cognition, Salivary Markers and Microbiome; and that is big milestone. Once the post-flight baseline data collection takes place, we will have completed the required number of subjects for these four investigations. It takes a long time to complete the number of subjects required for Human Research investigations – it’s usually years in the making – so this is a big milestone.

Cognition will help us understand how the physical changes related to spaceflight such as microgravity, stress, and lack of sleep can affect cognitive performance. The results can lead to more effective ways of measuring the effect on cognitive ability during long-duration spaceflight.

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren works through 10 cognitive tests developed to test how spaceflight affects mental abilities. Credits: NASA

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren works through 10 cognitive tests developed to test how spaceflight affects mental abilities. Credits: NASA

Salivary Markers and Microbiome are both searching for a better understanding of the effect of microgravity on the immune system. Salivary Markers – as the name hints, focuses on saliva. But why saliva? Because our saliva is amazing! Our saliva has antimicrobial enzymes and antibacterial properties that kill some bacteria, and that helps us remain healthy. Immune system dysregulation has been documented during and after spaceflight, but it is not known if these changes increase infection susceptibility or pose a significant health risk to crew members. Salivary Markers is helping us understand that. Microbiome is assessing the immune system by studying the collection of microbes in the body and gut area that also help us stay healthy, and its interaction with its environment. Understanding that micro-universe of microbes, its balance needed to keep us healthy, and its interaction with the space station environment will also help us develop more effective countermeasures.

Of course, these four investigations have a good variety of applications for medical and health issues we face here on Earth. As we prepare to celebrate the safe return of the 45S crew, let us also celebrate the completion of these four Human Research investigations as another stepping stone on our journey beyond low-Earth orbit and healthier long-duration spaceflight.

Yuri Guinart-Ramirez Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 47 & 48

Yuri Guinart-Ramirez
Lead Increment Scientist
Expeditions 47 & 48

Science in Short: Rodent Research, RNA and Omics Overview

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NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, M.D., and Twins Study Principal Investigator Susan Bailey, Ph.D., collaborate on telomere research. Both participated in a National DNA Day Reddit AMA on April 25. Credits: Colorado State University/NASA

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, M.D., and Twins Study Principal Investigator Susan Bailey, Ph.D., collaborate on telomere research. Both participated in a National DNA Day Reddit AMA on April 25. Credits: Colorado State Universtiy, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Last week had some really exciting research “firsts” on the International Space Station as we continue to provide state-of-the art laboratory equipment and techniques for research in orbit. On May 3, astronauts successfully completed a functional assessment of grip strength in mice on the orbiting laboratory. This was the first time a grip strength meter has been used for rodent research on orbit, and the data gathered will be used to assess the efficacy of the anti-myostatin treatments in preventing muscle loss in space. Crew members also took measurements of bone densitometry on mice for only the second time in space. To date, whether studying the astronaut crew or mice, we have only been able to do bone scans before and after flight. We are now able to look at loss of bone during the course of the mission. The mice were sedated so that they could undergo bone densitometry scanning. Following the scanning, the mice were given another dose of either anti-myostatin or control antibody. The work is being done as part of the Rodent Research-3 experiment conducted by Eli Lilly to understand the relationship between muscle atrophy and bone loss. Eli Lilly joins other pharmaceutical companies, including Merck and Amgen, in using the space station as a source of research innovation.

The orbiting laboratory also made progress in molecular biology capabilities with the operation of a qPCR machine to take sample in orbit, extract RNA, and set up reactions that record gene expressions in real time. Called Wetlab-2, the validation test sessions were completed on May 2 using samples of (benign) E. coli and mouse liver tissue, resulting in science-quality data. The WetLab-2 qPCR facility is now available for scientists who need this capability in life science and biomedical research on the space station.

If you are struggling with terms like “omics” and “gene expression,” NASA has released a set of videos to help explain why this area of research is such an important part of the Twins Study. The series explains in friendly terms about omics, its significance in the Twins Study on the space station, and the advantages of personalized medicine for astronauts and humans on Earth. The video’s release was in honor of National DNA Day and a HREC Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) online event on April 25, 2016. Twins Study principal investigators and astronaut Kjell Lindgren served as subject matter experts for the event and responded to online questions from the public. The event garnered 3,884 karma points and 672 comments. The series explores space through you by using omics to look more closely at individual health. The series is divided into sub-disciplines:

• Video 1 – Omics introduction
• Video 2 – Genomics
• Video 3 – Transcriptomics
• Video 4 – Proteomics
• Video 5 – Epigenomics
• Video 6 – Metabolomics
• Video 7 – Microbiomics
• Video 8 – Omics overview/conclusion

Plans are to release videos 6 and 7 when astronaut Kate Rubins sequences DNA in space for the first time later this summer. The final video will be released in conjunction with National Twins Day in August. Read more about the Twins Study online.

Joe Neigut
ISS Assistant Program Scientist

Studying Cardiovascular Health in Microgravity

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In today’s A Lab Aloft, Richard L. Hughson, PhD, discusses various studies that seek to understand the cardiovascular health of astronauts on orbit, and the effects of spaceflight on the cardiovascular system once astronauts return to Earth. 

Astronaut Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18 flight engineer, poses for a photo in the Columbus laboratory of the International Space Station. Credits: NASA

Astronaut Sandra Magnus, Expedition 18 flight engineer, poses for a photo in the Columbus laboratory of the International Space Station. Credits: NASA

The human cardiovascular system evolved to meet the challenges of upright posture in the Earth’s gravitational environment. Daily exposures to gravitational forces, and frequent periods of physical activity that cause the heart to beat rapidly and strongly, are vital to the health of the cardiovascular system.

Gravity exerts a force on the body that sets up a hydrostatic gradient, effectively lowering blood pressure when blood is pumped up to the head when sitting or standing, but increasing blood pressure with distance below the heart. At the level of the eyes or the middle of the brain, blood pressure is reduced about 30 mmHg from what it was as it left the heart. So, if someone’s blood pressure was 120/80 at the heart, it would be 90/50 at the brain. When we lie in bed at night, or when an astronaut goes into space, gravity’s effect is removed and blood pressures remain closer to 120/80 throughout the arterial system.

Normally, effective reflex responses allow the body to maintain this level of blood pressure even with posture change. There is, though, always some reduction in arterial blood pressure when we move to upright posture. Some people experience greater drops that are referred to as orthostatic hypotension, but reflex increases in heart rate and constriction of blood vessels in the lower regions of the body, in combination with a dilation of blood vessels in the brain, keeps most people from experiencing dizziness.

However, the human body quickly adapts to changes in gravity’s effects. Our very first space physiology experiment almost 30 years ago used four hours of slight head-down bed rest as a simulation of the effects of spaceflight on the cardiovascular system. Head-down tilt shifts blood in a similar way to what we see as puffy faces of astronauts. After four hours of this spaceflight analog, we moved the subjects to an upright posture, but had to stop the tilt test in less than 10 minutes for six of eight healthy, young volunteers, because they had symptoms indicating they were about to faint {Butler, 1991}. These observations got us thinking about the importance of daily posture transitions and how spaceflight might upset normal cardiovascular control of arterial blood pressure.

In support of the Blood Pressure Regulation Experiment (BP Reg), Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency is pictured after having set up the Human Research Facility (HRF) PFS (Pulmonary Function System) and the European Physiology Module (EPM) Cardiolab (CDL) Leg/Arm Cuff System (LACS) and conducting the first ever session of this experiment. Credits: NASA

In support of the Blood Pressure Regulation Experiment (BP Reg), Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency is pictured after having set up the Human Research Facility (HRF) PFS (Pulmonary Function System) and the European Physiology Module (EPM) Cardiolab (CDL) Leg/Arm Cuff System (LACS) and conducting the first ever session of this experiment. Credits: NASA

The first report of post-spaceflight orthostatic intolerance was in 1962 after a nine-hour spaceflight in the Mercury program. After the nine, 14-day Spacelab Life Sciences missions, 64% of astronauts had orthostatic intolerance. The first report of orthostatic responses after long-duration spaceflights to ISS revealed that five of six astronauts were intolerant during a post-flight stand test. As well, questions were raised about cardiovascular deconditioning occurring in space, with reductions reported in the arterial baroreflex response. Thus, when we proposed the CCISS study in 2001, there was strong reason to believe that orthostatic intolerance was a major problem with long-duration spaceflight and that a critical evaluation of mechanisms was appropriate. We conducted some detailed investigations pre- and post-flight, and inflight we measured resting arterial baroreflex responses. The CCISS experiments were the first to use 24-hour activity and heart rate monitoring to confirm that astronauts indeed have greatly reduced energy expenditure during their daily routines. We were able to state that cardiovascular reflex responses were not reduced during long-duration missions on ISS, but there was a reduction in the baroreflex response measured in a sitting position about 24-hours after return to Earth, and this reduction was quite large in about one-half of the astronauts. Overall, it seemed that the countermeasures employed by the astronauts during flight were sufficient to maintain cardiovascular stability inflight, but blood pressure wasn’t fully protected post-flight, and there was concern about dizziness or fainting in some astronauts.

The arterial baroreflex studied during CCISS is only one aspect of cardiovascular function and health that can be affected by spaceflight. Removal of gravitational challenges and overall physical inactivity in spaceflight can result in wide-ranging consequences, collectively called “cardiovascular deconditioning.” A key descriptor is physical fitness, or maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), that is determined in large part by the pumping ability of the heart as well as blood flow distribution to the working skeletal muscles. Reduced VO2max and peak power output during and for 10-days after flight has been confirmed in a recent investigation on the International Space Station {Moore, 2014}.

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Other key elements of vascular health include arterial stiffness, the ability of blood vessels to dilate in response to the stimulus of increased blood flow, and cardio-metabolic health, which is defined by blood glucose regulation. Together, these effects of spaceflight can be viewed as accelerated “aging-like” changes in the cardiovascular system, raising concern that they might promote development of atherosclerosis. In 2004, we proposed the study “Cardiovascular health consequences of long-duration spaceflight”, known simply as Vascular, and recently we published some exciting findings from this study.

The project Vascular was the first to investigate changes in stiffness of the carotid artery. We hypothesized that this artery would be stiffer after spaceflight because of its chronic exposure to elevated arterial pressure without the daily effect of gravity reducing blood pressure in the head and neck. Also, the overall reduction in daily activity levels without gravity might contribute, as we know that on Earth, sedentary lifestyles are associated with stiffer arteries. On Earth, increased arterial stiffness with aging is very strongly associated with greater risk for major cardiovascular events, kidney disease and dementia.

Italian Space Agency (ASI) Astronaut Luca Parmitano, geared up to perform the Canadian experiment BP Reg during Increment 35/36.

Italian Space Agency (ASI) Astronaut Luca Parmitano, geared up to perform the Canadian experiment BP Reg during Increment 35/36. Credits: NASA

We found that carotid arteries of astronauts after six months on space station were stiffer by about the same amount expected in 10-20 years of normal aging on Earth. In these astronauts, we also took blood samples on station to measure biomarkers to determine if there were changes that reflected similar patterns to what is observed with aging. Cardio-metabolic health can be assessed by measuring fasting blood glucose and insulin, and from this we can calculate an index of insulin resistance. The inflight concentration of insulin was elevated, as was the index of insulin resistance. Although it has been speculated for many years that insulin resistance occurs with spaceflight, this is the first time that it has been confirmed by this index. We found other blood markers that were affected by spaceflight. Hormones involved in blood volume and blood pressure regulation were elevated with spaceflight. A marker of tissue repair mechanisms, matrix metalloproteinase II, was reduced, but future work is required to determine if this was related to vascular repair to responses of other tissues.

Interestingly in the Vascular study, we had a unique opportunity to examine potential differences in responses of male and female astronauts. One of the indicators of carotid artery stiffness, the beta-stiffness index, had a greater change in women than men. Women also had bigger changes in the blood volume and blood pressure regulatory hormones. One of these hormones, aldosterone, has been associated with greater arterial stiffness. Men had a greater change in the index of insulin resistance. It is perhaps not surprising that the cardiovascular systems of men and women respond differently to spaceflight. These results, taken in light of the increased recruitment of women into the astronaut corps, provide incentive to investigate further the impact of spaceflight on cardiovascular health.

Before and after spaceflight the Vascular Echo research team takes measurements of the arteries with ultrasound and pressure sensors to determine arterial stiffness. (Credit: Dr. Richard Hughson) © Canadian Space Agency.

Before and after spaceflight the Vascular Echo research team takes measurements of the arteries with ultrasound and pressure sensors to determine arterial stiffness. (Credit: Dr. Richard Hughson) © Canadian Space Agency.

Preliminary results have been obtained as well from our study “A simple in-flight method to test the risk of fainting on return to Earth after long-duration space flights” known as BP Reg. The major objective of this study was to determine if an inflight test of the blood pressure response could identify those astronauts who might need additional countermeasures prior to return to Earth to prevent problems with orthostatic intolerance. To do this, we developed a method to make blood pressure change as if the astronaut was “standing up in space.” Large leg cuffs were placed around the upper thighs, and were inflated for three minutes before rapid deflation caused a drop in blood pressure. To measure the cardiovascular responses during cuff deflation, we used the continuous blood pressure device (CBPD) so that we could follow the transient changes. The CBPD also provides a method to estimate other cardiovascular variables, including cardiac output, which could provide valuable information on how blood pressure was regulated in space. However, when we designed the study, we had reason to believe that some assumptions required for the calculations might not hold during spaceflight. To check this, the CBPD method to estimate cardiac output was compared with a rebreathing method. Cardiac output by rebreathing increased 47% from pre-flight seated values to inflight, while the CBPD method was unchanged showing that assumptions used in the calculation are not valid. The result is important, though, as we and others have used the CBPD method to estimate cardiac output, and these numbers probably underestimate changes due to spaceflight.

Over the past 10 years, we have gained an appreciation for how individual variations in adaptations to spaceflight influence the cardiovascular health and function of astronauts living on the space station. The current routines of exercise countermeasures contribute to stability of cardiovascular health while on the orbiting laboratory. However, on return to upright posture on Earth, there are astronauts whose blood pressure regulation is severely challenged. We have seen that these individuals are well monitored by their physicians to avoid problems. We can also state, though, that the daily activity levels while on the space station are greatly reduced from pre-flight, and that over two separate studies, we documented that astronauts average about 30-minutes per day of aerobic exercise. This relatively sedentary lifestyle probably contributed to development of insulin resistance and might have contributed along with the change in arterial blood pressure in the head and neck to increased carotid artery stiffness. We will have an opportunity to monitor these key changes in greater detail with in-flight ultrasounds and blood samples, and also follow the recovery post-flight in the study Vascular Echo, which had its first astronaut launch in December 2015. To obtain a more thorough investigation of the development of insulin resistance, a project that was approved during the 2014 call for proposals will soon directly measure the response to an oral glucose tolerance test.

The Space Station provides a unique platform to study “aging-like” changes in cardiovascular function by taking highly fit and healthy individuals, and then subjecting them to the ultimate sedentary lifestyle. Our research in the Schlegel-University of Waterloo Research Institute for Aging benefits greatly from our investigations of astronauts. Understanding that readjusting to gravity is critical for astronauts and older persons. Just as we saw astronauts with post-flight impairment of blood pressure regulation, there are approximately 20% of older adults who have a large drop in arterial blood pressure on going from bed to upright posture, greatly increasing their risk for falls and serious injury. Astronauts are inspirational. When Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk promoted Get Fit for Space during his time on the space station, the level of participation in regular physical activity greatly increased in the retirement and long-term care of Schlegel Villages. Now from the Vascular study, we have emphasized the important health message that a single exercise session per day is not sufficient when the rest of the day is highly sedentary to prevent development of insulin resistance. Everyone needs to include physical activity throughout the day.

Richard L. Hughson, PhD Schlegel Research Chair in Vascular Aging and Brain Health Schlegel-University of Waterloo Research Institute for Aging

Richard L. Hughson, PhD
Schlegel Research Chair in Vascular Aging and Brain Health
Schlegel-University of Waterloo Research Institute for Aging

Science in Short: Remote Sensing and Genomics Studies

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The Campaign Good Earth Gap Analysis Report , commissioned by CASIS, is a study to evaluate the capabilities and limitations of the ISS as a host for commercial remote sensing payloads, including the products and needs of the data analytics community. Credits: CASIS

The Campaign Good Earth Gap Analysis Report , commissioned by CASIS, is a study to evaluate the capabilities and limitations of the ISS as a host for commercial remote sensing payloads, including the products and needs of the data analytics community. Credits: CASIS

On April 28, CASIS released their Good Earth Technology Gap Study (PDF). Compiled for them by From James Goodman of Hyspeed Computing, this report is part external facility researchers guide, part market study, and recommends particular lines of interest in sensors: hyperspectral, Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR); and for next generation on-board data compression and computing capabilities.

The ISS provides a unique vantage point for Earth observation, and the ISS infrastructure itself provides many advantages as a robust platform for sensor deployment. Real-time and time-series information gathered from remote sensing applications have proven invaluable to resource management, environmental monitoring, geologic and oceanographic studies, and assistance with disaster relief efforts. This report, an analysis of the gaps between ISS capabilities and limitations in the remote sensing market, is meant to initiate a path toward optimal use of the ISS National Lab as a platform for project implementation and technology development. (credit: CASIS)

The WetLab RNA SmartCycler allows station crew members to extract RNA from multiple types of biological specimens in less than 30 minutes. Credits: NASA

The WetLab RNA SmartCycler allows station crew members to extract RNA from multiple types of biological specimens in less than 30 minutes. Credits: NASA

On orbit last week the Wetlab-2 technology demonstration runs have declared success in their ability to show that the device can amplify RNA (ribonucleic acid) using a commercially adapted quantitative polymerase chain reaction machine (qPCR) in space. Scientists studying a wide range of biology questions need quality gene-expression information, which requires specialized equipment that can extract DNA and RNA. Wet Lab RNA SmartCycler (Wetlab-2) validates a new system that can take a sample grown in orbit, extract RNA, and set up reactions that record gene expressions in real time. Data can be downlinked to Earth for analysis, improving scientists’ ability to study biological processes in microgravity. Specifically, last week, they have showed that they were able to achieve Simplex, Duplex and Triplex qPCR amplification which refers to the number separate reagents targeting areas of gene expression being amplified in a single batch. This week, the crew has begun the final of four WetLab-2 sessions by conducting the validation operations and processing a cell sample to extract the RNA.

Kirt Costello
ISS Deputy Chief Scientist and Program Science Office Manager

Science in Short: National DNA Day

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Anna-Sophia Boguraev, age 17, is pictured with her winning Genes in Space experiment, the miniPCR. The experiment was recently checked out and run aboard the International Space Station. Credits: NASA/ Kim Shiflett, NASA

Anna-Sophia Boguraev, age 17, is pictured with her winning Genes in Space experiment, the miniPCR. The experiment was recently checked out and run aboard the International Space Station. Credits: NASA/ Kim Shiflett, NASA

National DNA Day is a holiday celebrated on April 25. It commemorates the day in 1953 when James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin and colleagues published papers in the journal Nature on the structure of DNA.

In the United States, DNA Day was first celebrated on April 25, 2003 by proclamation of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. However, they only declared a one-time celebration, not an annual holiday. Every year from 2003 onward, annual DNA Day celebrations have been organized by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). April 25 has since been declared “International DNA Day” and “World DNA Day” by several groups.

The goal of National DNA Day is to offer students, teachers and the public an opportunity to learn about and celebrate the latest advances in genomic research and explore how those advances might impact their lives.

Today also marks the student submission deadline for the second year Genes in Space (GiS) student proposals. The first Genes in Space winner’s experiment using the miniPCR is currently operating on ISS. Checkout and two sample runs were completed on station this past week, and the final “Blue” sample is scheduled to be completed on Wednesday morning 4/27. The mini-polymerase chain reaction is a COTS instrument which replicates DNA in order to have enough to analyze. The specific objectives of this experiment are to use PCR technology to study epigenetic changes and how they affect the human immune system.

Marybeth Edeen
ISS, Research Integration Office Manager 

Science in Short: ARTE

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NASA astronaut Tim Kopra installed the Thermal Exchange hardware in the Microgravity Science Glovebox. Credits: NASA

NASA astronaut Tim Kopra installed the Thermal Exchange hardware in the Microgravity Science Glovebox. Credits: NASA

Our small devices have to dump a lot of heat from their electronics, if you have been sitting with your laptop on your lap wondering why it is getting so hot, you might also be interested in future improvements being sought through research on the International Space Station. Heat pipes are used to cool things like laptop computers and rely on an interface between liquid and gas phases in a liquid, plus capillary flow to return the cooled liquid back to the heated end. Previous research on the space station discovered inefficiencies in heat pipes and other research identified the new fundamental equations for capillary flow from research done on the orbiting laboratory. During the first week of April, and experiment called Advanced Research Thermal Passive Exchange (ARTE) , one of a number of new experiments testing this new knowledge to get practical applications, was completed on the space station. The Thermal Exchange hardware performed a series of powered test runs within the microgravity science glovebox to determine the impact of using various working fluids and different groove shapes on capillary action for heat pipes operating in a microgravity environment. The data collected will be used to further understand and validate numerical modelling of heat pipe behavior in microgravity, which can then be used to develop more passive and reliable thermal control systems for future exploration. This particular experiment was sponsored by the Italian Space Agency, and was led by scientists from DIMEAS – Dipartimento di Ingegneria Meccanica e Aerospaziale, I Facoltà di Ingegneria, Politecnico di Torino, Torino, Italy; related investigations testing various aspects of capillary flow and heat transfer are coming in the next few years, including some sponsored by CASIS as part of the ISS National Laboratory, and some sponsored by NASA.

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

Science in Short: Surprising Space Research Connections

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Sometimes to understand the dramatic effects of spaceflight on living organisms, a picture can tell more than a lot of words about science.

Recently, Liz Blaber and Eduardo Almeida shared the following picture with me from their 2014 publication in Stem Cell Research. The image is a microscopic view of the bone marrow inside the hip bone (femoral head) of mice that flew to the International Space Station. The picture on the left is the ground “control” and the picture on the right is a mouse that was losing bone from being in the microgravity environment in space.RBC Megakaryocyte

The cells marked in red are red blood cells. The blood cells are increased in numbers, and show increased clustering, but not at a different density. Eduardo and Liz believe that the pores that would normally allow the cells out of the marrow and into the blood have been blocked as part of the bone loss process, and so the red blood cells cannot get out of the marrow. Depending on the fluid shifts and effects on the total plasma volume, the differences could lead to anemia. Investigators looking at the blood of astronauts are also struggling to understand data on blood cell counts and functional immunity using data from the Integrated Immune investigation, and are eagerly awaiting results from the Fluid Shifts Investigation to understand changes in plasma volume. Fluid shifts is a new investigation that began with Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, and will continue on future crewmembers.

The cells marked in green are megakaryocytes, which are cells that are important in the production of platelets, cells that enable our blood to clot. In this sample, there is only one of these important cells in the image, while in the Earth sample there were three. Liz and Eduardo think that they might have moved out into the circulation due to cardiac deconditioning, but we really don’t know the full mechanism in play.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak to a group of scientists and doctors working on new treatments for patients with hemophilia. They were interested in the ways that we integrate different types of data on astronauts to understand the interactions of different systems in their health. Just like hemophilia patients, astronauts are a small group of people that can have very dramatic health effects is the disruption in their bodies affects different physiological systems. There are a wide variety of physiological impacts in hemophilia patients (with problems in the blood clotting proteins in their blood). Of all the things that could go wrong, much of the medical care of hemophilia patients gets focused on presenting small bleeds in their joints which eventually cause permanent damage. The root cause of an illness and the many different effects it can have on our bodies can be surprising. What is amazing to me about the space station is that each time we understand more about the response of a system in the body to microgravity as a stimulus, it also gives us insights that apply to other related needs on Earth. Stem cells and tissue regeneration are disrupted in many ways in space, and that window into physiology gives us the opportunity to make innovative connections in solving health problems on Earth.

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

NASA’s International Space Station Chief Scientist Julie Robinson, Ph.D. (NASA)

Science in Short: SABL facility

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Space Automated Bioproduct Laboratory (SABL) facility

The Space Automated Bioproduct Laboratory (SABL) facility Credits: Bioserve

Last week the crew performed some setup and preliminary checkout activities of the Space Automated Bioproduct Laboratory (SABL) facility. SABL is a facility that can support a wide range of investigations across life sciences, physical sciences, and materials sciences, with a main focus on research that enables biological systems and processes. Developed by Bioserve, it will replace the existing two Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGBA) that has been serving a major incubator function on ISS since 2001.

SABL with BioCells

SABL with BioCells Credits: Bioserve

The SABL will have interchangeable inserts that will allow it to support a wide range of fundamental and applied research ranging from microorganisms through small organisms, cell and tissue culture, and small plants. An important feature on the SABL is the USB ports that support any modern scientific tool with USB connectivity to work with SABL, allowing for many future analytical tools to be used on the orbiting laboratory as science technology evolves.

SABL has a front door for the crew to easily access their experiments, and a set of cameras that allow the crew and scientists on the ground to watch experiments as they happen. This is a bonus for the crew, as they’ve often told us that they really enjoy the experiments where they can actually see what’s going on inside the box!

Lastly, a feature that’s important to the science logistics on the space station is the capability for the SABL to efficiently recharge NASA’s Cold Bricks, which is critical for carrying samples to/from ISS at 4 degrees Celsius. Many thanks to the CGBA for keeping so many life sciences and educational experiments running for 15 years! Now let’s get ready to settle into the latest technology that will welcome Earth’s scientific community to research in low-Earth orbit.

Tara M. Ruttley, PhD Associate Program Scientist -International Space Station (ISS) ISS Program Science Office

Tara M. Ruttley, PhD
Associate Program Scientist -International Space Station 
ISS Program Science Office

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