As part of NASA’s latest launch to the International Space Station on Dec. 5, the space agency sent up 5,600 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The cargo mission supports the ISS’ crew members and dozens of experiments on the orbiting space lab.
Included in that payload is equipment for several science experiments and the potential to help with macular degeneration and research that may significantly improve wound healing – especially tissue regeneration.
“There are a lot of different, compelling reasons to leave Earth to conduct these experiments,” Mike Roberts, deputy chief scientist for the ISS National Lab, told Fox News in a recent interview. “We can use the ISS as a remote lab and utilize it as an engineering task platform to test new materials and test them in the harsh environment of space.”
Former NASA astronaut Terry Virts, who logged 212 days in space and conducted three spacewalks totaling more than 19 hours, added to that and said the experiments conducted in a zero-gravity environment, especially medical experiments, have a pretty “profound potential” to help humans on Earth.
“One of the benefits in zero-gravity is that you can grow things like tissues or crystals where there’s no weight,” Virts told Fox News. “When there’s something fighting against gravity, it grows differently. We’ve done protein crystals in space a lot and scientists can understand the structure of the cross-gene that’s involved in a lot of cancers, especially pancreatic cancer and how to combat it. That’s some of the more interesting and potentially viable applications.”
While onboard the ISS, Virts dealt with keeping track of the cargo that was sent up from Earth and worked on experiments that dealt with bone density loss and muscle issues, as well as E. coli and salmonella immunizations. In total, Virts said the astronauts worked on over 250 experiments while he was onboard the space lab.
The experiment to help restore vision is in part being funded by startup LambdaVision, a Boston-based startup funded by MassChallenge Startup Accelerator that is working on the “cutting edge of entrepreneurship,” Roberts said. The ultimate goal is to create a new eye prosthetic for those who suffer from numerous retinal and eye diseases.
The company has created a retinal protein based on an eye implant and is looking to find out whether it can help with macular degeneration, which Roberts said would be increasingly important as the population of the country gets older.
“As we have an aging population, these are some of the more severe threats to the health of the nation and any advances they make would be significant,” Roberts said.
According to the US Census Bureau, more than 35 percent of the US population is 50 and older.