The United States is just four days away from sending a SpaceXrocket to theInternational Space Stationwhose cargo will include a Parkinsons diseaseexperiment.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials said the experiment will involve growingleucine-rich repeat kinase 2protein crystals in the near-zero-gravity conditions of space.
Scientists hope the LRRK2 crystals will be larger and more regular in space, allowing them to see the proteins structure for the first time. They have been unable to obtain an image of the protein on Earth that is high-resolution enough to display its structure. Until they know what the structure is, they will be unable to design a Parkinsons therapy around the protein.
The Dragon spacecraft will carry hardware, supplies for the space stations crew, and scientific research material. It will be SpaceXs 12th mission to the orbiting laboratory.
Funding for the Parkinsons experimentis coming from theMichael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinsons Researchand theCenter for the Advancement of Science in Space.
Marco Baptista, the Fox foundations director of Research and Grants, and Dr. Sebastian Mathea of the University of Oxford discussed the experiment during amedia teleconferenceabout the launch on Aug. 8.
Only about 10 percent of Parkinsons cases stem from genetic mutations. Of those,LRRK2 mutations are the most common.
The percentage of LRRK2-linked Parkinsons cases is much higher in someethnic groups, however. They account for 40 percent of cases amongNorth African Arab Berbers, for example, and 15 to 20 percent of cases amongAshkenazi Jews.
Parkinsons researchers hopelarger, better-formed protein crystals with fewer defects can yield the high-resolution views of LRRK2 they need.
A detailed view of the shape and form of LRRK2s crystalline structure could be an important step toward understanding and accelerating development of LRRK2 inhibitor therapies that can prevent, slow, or stop the progression of Parkinsons.
The unique environment of the International Space Station untethers research from restrictions imposed by gravity, Gregory H. Johnson, executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, said in a press release. The organization is glad to partner with The Michael J. Fox Foundation to explore the structure of this important piece of the Parkinsons puzzle, he said.
Launch is scheduled for Aug. 13 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Other scientists who participated in the teleconference included:
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