RPI space experiments may advance medical knowledge

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Alzheimer's brain scan

Dr. Scott Turner points out results from an Alzheimer’s disease PET scan that shows amyloid plaques in the brain in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — In a new paper from the academic journal Microgravity, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute uncovered information about physics in space which could reveal key information about human health. The study reports a new way to study the mechanisms behind conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Amir Hirsa, an RPI engineering professor, developed the concept of the “ring-sheared drop” to observe samples in a simulated low-gravity environment.

Hirsa’s team uses the ring-sheared drop to study how a drop of protein fluid reacts to gravity and friction from a petri dish. The effect of a microgravity field on the protein is a clue for medical scientists researching the formation of amyloid fibrils.

Amyloid fibrils are proteins formed in the body and linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, type II diabetes, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Hirsa’s team hopes to understand how shearing stress—a force that causes layers of a substance or parts of objects to rub or slide across one another—can cause, affect, or speed up fibrils forming in the body.

The RPI team also recently received a grant for new research to improve drug manufacture by researching the fluid mechanics of proteins used in pharmaceuticals.

Current unsimulated microgravity experiments at the International Space Station use the ring-sheared drop method with insulin.

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