CASIS Awards First Space Station Research Grants

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WASHINGTON — In the first formal grant awarded in its short history, the Center for the Advancement of Science In Space (CASIS) — the Florida nonprofit that manages non-NASA science on the international space station — announced three scientists will share $1.2 million in federal funding for space-based protein crystallization research.

According to a Nov. 1 CASIS press release, the winning principal investigators and their experiments are:

  • Stephen Aller, the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Aller’s proposal focuses on crystallizing human membrane proteins that could be used in drug research to treat AIDS-related dementia, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, cystic fibrosis, and cancer-related multi-drug resistance.
  • Pamela Bjorkman, the California Institute of Technology. Bjorkman’s research will focus on crystallization research related to Huntington’s disease, a genetic condition that causes cognitive and neurological degeneration.
  • Joseph Ng, iXpressGenes Inc. Ng proposes growing large protein crystals aboard the space station for neutron diffraction studies. The only privately operated awardee on CASIS’s list, iXpressGenes is affiliated with the Huntsville, Ala.-based HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, according to the company’s website.

CASIS did not say how much funding each winner would get. The selected projects were chosen from among 16 competing proposals by a panel of space science experts pooled by CASIS earlier this year, the group said in its press release. CASIS solicited requests for these proposals in June.

Under a cooperative agreement awarded in 2011, CASIS gets $15 million a year in federal funding. Of that amount, about $3 million a year is reserved for grants, spokesman Bobby Block said in May. CASIS said then that it planned to give station-based protein crystallization experiments early priority for funding.

CASIS does not provide financing for space station-based research beyond the $3 million in federal grant money it administers. The organization was created to be an intermediary between researchers, launch providers, NASA’s space station office and investors.

CASIS was created last year to fulfill a mandate in the 2005 NASA Authorization Act that designated half of the space station’s U.S. operating segment a National Laboratory. The mandate, pushed by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), also called for NASA to outsource management of the National Lab to a nonprofit.