May 18, 2018 12:00 PM

Astronaut Randy Bresnik talks to a reporter.

Researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) have now been offered the chance to perform their studies in space.

On May 16, 2018, HCI hosted NASA astronaut Randy “Komrade” Bresnik and a team from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). CASIS coordinates the U.S. National Laboratory inside the International Space Station (ISS), a resource available to scientists for performing research studies in a singular environment.

“The U.S. National Lab on the ISS is a unique facility for doing research,” CASIS Senior Associate Program Scientist Ken Savin told HCI researchers. “We can help you develop your project and get it flown and run on station. We provide state-of-the-art technology and are driven to help you get the work done that will help us address the cancer challenge.”

The CASIS team explained that performing research in space offers unique advantages. For example, an environment of weightlessness can uncover aspects of biological processes normally masked by gravity.

Bresnik recently returned from a five-month mission on the ISS and explained how astronauts aboard the space station help scientists with their research. “I’m not a cancer researcher, but I’ll take the cancer researcher’s work, execute the procedure in zero gravity, freeze it, and take it back to Earth,” Bresnik explained. The cancer fight is personal for Bresnik, whose mother died from the disease in 1996.

Don Ayer, PhD, HCI researcher and professor of oncological sciences at the University of Utah, helped coordinate the NASA/CASIS visit. “Two things really stood out to me from their presentation: the realization that discovery science in space transcends politics; and the challenge to think about how our experiments could be translated to the International Space Station.”

“I had no idea there was a national laboratory on board the space station,” commented postdoc Jamie Fornetti, PhD, of Welm Labs at HCI. “As someone who studies cancer-associated bone destruction, it is interesting to think about ways in which the bone loss experienced in low-gravity environments like outer space could model certain aspects of bone loss associated with things like cancer and aging.”

“I had never realized crystal formation, the shape of a burning flame, and boiling water all behave differently on Earth than in microgravity,” said Lorne Hofstetter, MSc, an MD and PhD candidate. Hofstetter, a member of the Parker Lab, noted it was interesting to learn how this unique microgravity environment is being used to explore questions in pharmaceutical and cancer research.

Savin encouraged HCI researchers to apply to use the lab because it can foster a new way of seeing things.

“Cancer is many diseases and represents a significant challenge to all of humanity,” he said. “[Finding a cure] will require new approaches and new ways of thinking. This lab forces you to think differently, to stretch yourself and see the same world of science again for the first time.”

For more information about CASIS, email Ken Savin.

cancer research Cancer Center Research Program Nuclear Control of Cell Growth and Differentiation Cell Response and Regulation Experimental Therapeutics Cancer Control and Population Sciences

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