Chia Soo and Kang Ting of the University of California, Los Angeles, were presented with the 2018 International Space Station (ISS) Innovation Award in Biology and Medicine at the ISS Research and Development Conference last week for their innovative use of rodent research on the space station to successfully demonstrate the robustness of a new potential osteoporosis therapy and significantly improve its delivery.
In their rodent research(RR)-5 mission, which launched on SpaceX CRS-11, Soo and her team tested a new osteoporosis therapy that not only prevents further bone loss but also builds new bone. The RR-5 team successfully optimized the therapy, which is based on the naturally produced protein NELL-1, so that it works systemically to build bone throughout the body and can be given as an injection once every two weeks. The extended dosing interval means fewer injections are needed, which would result in fewer trips to the doctor’s office and less cost for patients. Such a therapy would significantly benefit the millions of people with osteoporosis.
The RR-5 team needed to achieve an injection interval of 14 days because crew members typically only access mice on the space station at that interval. However, keeping the NELL-1 molecule in circulation for that long and making sure it successfully attached to bone tissue was a substantial challenge.
The team first modified the molecule through a method called PEGylation, which helps keep the molecule in the bloodstream longer. The team then attached the NELL-1 molecule to an inactive form of bisphosphonate, a bone-seeking molecule. Through these innovative modifications, the team was able to successfully optimize the therapy for systemic delivery.
The microgravity environment on the ISS induces accelerated bone loss in mice, which enabled the RR-5 team to test the robustness of the therapy to treat extreme bone loss. The RR-5 mission was unique in that halfway through the investigation, 20 of the 40 spaceflight mice were returned to Earth alive to continue the experiment on the ground. All of the mice returned alive, healthy, and content, resulting in robust and reliable data.
Read more about the RR-5 mission in the Upward feature “Building Bones: Testing a New Osteoporosis Therapy with Mice in Microgravity.”