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CASIS Announces Additional Grants for Protein Crystallization

Published on Wednesday, March 13, 2013

CASIS Announces Additional Grants for Protein Crystallization

Projects Could Lead to New Drug Discoveries

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL. (March 13, 2013) – The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the nonprofit organization promoting and managing research on board the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, today announced additional research grant awards totaling approximately $600,000 for two projects advancing protein crystallization in microgravity.

In November 2012, CASIS announced grant awards totaling $1.2 million for three projects advancing protein crystallization in microgravity. The winning experiments were chosen from 16 submissions in response to CASIS’ first solicitation in June. Crystallography is the technique used to determine three-dimensional structures of protein molecules. Proteins, when performed in space, may produce larger, better-organized crystals, allowing more focused drug development. The Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued after a panel of life science experts reviewed 136 experiments flown in space over the last decade and identified protein crystallization as one of the most promising areas of microgravity research.

The newest grant awardees include:

  • Edward Snell, Ph.D., from the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute at SUNY Buffalo, who will focus on four eukaryotic proteins associated with human disease that crystallize on Earth but remain structurally uncharacterized. Larger, better-organized crystals could have a significant impact on drug targeting for Parkinson’s disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, ethylmalonic aciduria, and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Sergey Korolev, Ph.D., from the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, will utilize microgravity to improve crystals of two medically important proteins with unknown structures that could support drugs tied to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease and anticoagulant therapy.

Previously announced awardees included:

  • Dr. Stephen Aller, from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, who will seek to crystallize human membrane proteins that could accelerate the commercialization of next generation drugs to treat AIDS-related dementia, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, cystic fibrosis and multi-drug resistance as it relates to cancer.
  • Dr. Pamela Bjorkman, from the California Institute of Technology, who will focus crystallization research on Huntington’s disease.
  • Dr. Joseph Ng, from iXpressGenes Inc., who proposes to grow large protein crystals for neutron diffraction studies. This study could show that microgravity is the only avenue to obtain appropriately sized crystals for neutron diffraction studies and could result in a highly profitable service model for the ISS.

“Today’s announcement is a demonstration of CASIS’ ability to ensure that qualified research makes its way to Station,” noted CASIS Interim Executive Director Jim Royston. “Our core task is to utilize the National Lab to benefit humanity, and today’s awarded proposals bring us closer to that goal.”

Final award of the grant money is contingent upon acceptance of legal terms and conditions between recipients and CASIS. CASIS is also in the process of addressing other applicants that received high scores in the evaluation process, to discuss future opportunities to fund and fly their research to Station.

For additional information about CASIS opportunities, including instructions on submitting a proposal, continue to check the CASIS solicitations site at www.iss-casis.org/solicitations.

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About CASIS: The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) was selected by NASA in July 2011 to maximize use of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory through 2020. CASIS is dedicated to supporting and accelerating innovations and new discoveries that will enhance the health and wellbeing of people and our planet. The CASIS goal is to bring the magic of space down to earth. For more information, visit www.iss-casis.org.

About the ISS National Laboratory: In 2005, Congress designated the U.S. portion of the International Space Station as the nation's newest national laboratory to maximize its use for improving life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users and advancing STEM education. This unique laboratory environment is available for use by other U.S. government agencies and by academic and private institutions, providing access to the permanent microgravity setting, vantage point in low earth orbit and varied environments of space. The ISS National Laboratory Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center currently facilitates research initiatives on board the station’s National Lab, but management of America’s only in-orbit laboratory is transitioning to CASIS.

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