Alzheimer disease is the most common type of dementia, which is a neurodegenerative disorder. Degenerative disorder is a physical condition in which normal functioning is affected (disorder) and gets steadily worse over a period (degenerative). Around 50 million people worldwide, are affected by degenerative disorders, main among them being Alzheimer disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. Alzheimer disease constitutes 60-70 % of this disorder, but the causes are yet to be identified.
Scientists have identified certain similarities among degenerative disorders, but identifying the exact causes of each disorder is a must for developing treatments. Presence of abnormal level of proteins is understood to be a major cause of these disorders. Proteins clump together in the brain and form a fibrous structure termed amyloids. Scientists have been facing a major road block in identifying the reasons behind the formation. In ground based experiments, self organizing proteins and fibers grow larger. This large proteins and fibers get settled at the bottom of the container due to gravity as weight increases. It is expected that better studies can be conducted in weightlessness and here comes the role of space station.
Scientists are sending a Nanolab module of 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm to International Space Station (ISS) aboard the SpaceX CRS-5 cargo resupply mission. The Nanolab module, designed by a company called Nanoracks, will facilitate cost effective study in a weightless environment of the space station. These experiments will throw light into the causes and cure of many degenerative diseases.
The proposed study is called SABOL, Self-Assembly in Biology and the Origin of Life. The experiment will test a new theory developed by biochemist Shaohua Xu. He is a member of the Florida Institute of Technology which is a major researcher in the field. The scientists aim to study how the protein fibers grow in weightlessness.
The studies may not provide an immediate cure for the disease, but certainly is an important step in the right direction. Let us hope the studies reveal the secrets.