BETHESDA, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - A team of scientists is working on research that is quite literally out of this world.
Their ultimate hope is to stop diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, and they’re going to incredible lengths to do it.
"The best case scenario is that we discover that there is a fundamental difference between cells being in space and being on the ground," explained Dr. Jeanne Loring, a Parkinson’s expert whose cells were sent to the International Space Station earlier this month as part of the project.
She explained how her skin cells were turned into stem cells which were turned into brain cells, all in a lab.
Then, they were sent to space aboard the 25th SpaceX cargo mission along with about 400 other samples, including some from patients with Parkinson’s or MS.
"The hope is that you’ll begin to see a spot where things start to go south, and you can intervene with a new drug or cell therapy that would benefit millions of people around the planet," said Paula Grisanti, the CEO of the National Stem Cell Foundation, which is funding the research and has about $1 million invested in the project to date.
"Once you knock that first domino over for neurodegeneration with Parkinson’s and MS, then you’re gonna get Alzheimer’s and ALS and multiple rare childhood disorders," Grisanti added. "This is a new way, a totally new way of looking at it."
It’s actually the fourth time the team has sent cells to space. The plan is to keep the experiments going as long as they’ve got the funding, and people like Loring have the cells.
"I have no idea whether they’re going to be useful or not," Loring said before joking, "but I sure hope they behave themselves."
For more information about the project, visit the National Stem Foundation's website.