What do an anthrax-killing device, soybeans in space,
artificial bone replacement materials, light-emitting diodes
for wound healing, a new medicine to treat bone loss, a
water bottle that filters out bacteria, a perfume, and
advanced techniques for pharmaceutical drug design have in

These technologies and others have or are being developed by
more than 150 companies that are partners with NASA’s Space
Product Development Program (SPDP) and its 15 Research
Partnership Centers (RPC’s) across America.

“Industry is interested in many of the same revolutionary
products and technologies that NASA needs to explore the
universe,” said Mark Nall, director of the Space Commerce
Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC),
Huntsville, Ala. “When industry, academia and NASA come
together, industry positions itself for growth in new
commercial markets, while academia and NASA benefit from
innovative research and technological tools for
exploration,” he said.

Space and Osteoporosis Research and Treatment

Muscle and bone loss is one health-related problem that both
NASA and industry are tackling. Since bone loss occurs more
rapidly in space, Amgen, a biotechnology company with
headquarters in Thousand Oaks, Calif., used NASA’s Space
Shuttle as a test bed for a new medication to treat bone
loss or osteoporosis. Amgen discovered osteoprotegerin (OPG)
in the mid 1990s, and is conducting human clinical trials to
evaluate its safety and effectiveness in treating
osteoporosis and its ability to maintain bone density in
cancer that has metastasized to bone.

“OPG appears to prevent bone loss in a variety of diseases,
including cancer, and we anticipate that a drug based on
this molecule will be effective in preserving bone mass,
whether in astronauts or the millions of Americans suffering
from osteoporosis,” said Dr. Paul Kostenuik, a research
scientist in Amgen’s Metabolic Disorders group.

Amgen works with BioServe Space Technologies Inc., a NASA
Research Partnership Center at the University of Colorado,
which has completed 23 research missions in 12 years on both
the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.
BioServe and its industry partners are studying antibiotic
production, mammalian cell culture and plant biochemistry.

Crops for Space and Earth

Identifying unique chemical and genetic traits of plants
grown in space and using these traits to develop commercial
products on Earth is the specialty of another NASA RPC: the
Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics (WCSAR)
at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. With the help of
astronaut Peggy Whitson, they grew the first crop of
soybeans on the Space Station for their industrial partner,
Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., a DuPont subsidiary with
headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa.

This experiment verified that WCSAR-developed plant growth
technologies were capable of producing a major agricultural
crop in space. The second objective was to see whether
microgravity would alter the production of phytochemicals,
such as proteins, oils and carbohydrates, and induce new
genetic traits in the soybean seeds produced in space.
DuPont pursued this research because it could significantly
reduce the time and cost of introducing new varieties of
crops with new types of phytochemicals to the marketplace.

Scientists are performing tests on the seeds brought back to
Earth in October 2002. Some of the soybean seeds produced in
space were planted and did prove to be viable, producing a
new crop of plants with seeds on Earth. Scientists have
found some of the space seeds’ phytochemical compositions
are different than those in seeds harvested from the ground
control experiment. Researchers are continuing their
analysis to determine if these changes in composition result
in positive changes to seed quality. “We want to examine the
seeds produced by plants grown on the Space Station to see
if they have any unique, desirable traits,” said Dr. Tom
Corbin, a research scientist for Pioneer Hi-Bred. “If we
find changes, then we want to know if the positive traits
can be inherited genetically by future generations of plants
for the benefit of farmers and consumers.”

This commercial experiment and others that study plant
growth are paving the way for improving crops grown on
Earth, as well as potentially feeding people living in
space. The Space Station gives companies a chance to grow
plants that are larger and require several months to mature.
Several new products, including an anthrax-killing device, a
system derived from an ethylene scrubber that keeps fruits
and vegetables fresher when they are stored or transported,
wound healing and surgical tools, all evolved from
technology that WCSAR originally developed to grow plants on
the Space Station.

Drug Discovery Through Space Research

The Center for Biophysical Sciences and Engineering (CBSE),
an RPC located at the University of Alabama at Birmingham,
partners with industry to enable NASA to stretch research
dollars. The CBSE, under the direction of Dr. Larry DeLucas,
a payload specialist on Shuttle mission STS-50, is a leading
structural biology center with one of the largest facilities
in the world for X-ray crystallography, as well as a
platform of proprietary high throughput technologies
designed for structure based drug discovery.

CBSE has developed a suite of technologies to rapidly
determine the biological structures necessary to produce new
therapeutics and pharmaceuticals. This research has led to
the development of drugs designed to treat various chronic
and infectious diseases. The predictive power that comes
from molecular research in the drug discovery process can
significantly advance the launch of new drugs for the safety
and health of humans on earth and those traveling in space.

The SPDP is part of NASA’s Office of Biological and Physical
Research at Headquarters in Washington. For more information
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