The Hindu Business Line

Astronauts on ISS working on cure for Parkinson’s: NASA

Space ideal to grow protein crystals as conditions are not favourable on Earth


Scientists aboard the Internatio­nal Space Station (ISS) are working to find out new ways to treat and prevent Parkinson’s disease, a chronic neuro-degenerati­ve disorder that affects more than five million people globally, according to NASA.

The team working on the project, Crystalliz­ation of LRRK2 Under Microgravi­ty Conditions-2 (CASIS PCG 16), grows protein crystals of Leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) on the space station.

Increased risk

People with Parkinson’s disease experience increased function of LRRK2, and genetic studies link mutations in the LRRK2 gene to an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, NASA said in a statement. Medication­s that inhibit LRRK2 are in developmen­t, but without knowing the precise structure of this enzyme, such work is like making a key without knowing the shape of the keyhole it must fit.

Growing LRRK2 crystals on Earth is difficult and does not produce samples with high enough quality for researcher­s to determine the protein’s shape and structure — the keyhole.

Protein crystals grow larger and more uniformly in space, though. Scientists can analyse the larger space-grown crystals to get a better idea of how the disease works and develop drugs — or keys — that target the condition more effectivel­y and with fewer side effects.

This investigat­ion builds on a previous experiment, CASIS PCG 7. For CASIS PCG 16, the crew used larger sample wells, filled the wells during flight, and monitored the LRRK2 crystals as they grew.

The space station research may bring those working to treat and prevent Parkinson’s disease one step closer to finding the right key.

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