RPI space experiments may advance medical knowledge

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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