INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A group of 18 IU School of Medicine students and faculty are taking their research to the next level by sending their test subjects to space. The team is partnering with NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense to make it happen.
The drug they are testing is a bone healing agent. It could be used to help soldiers after a blast or victims of a car crash with bone fractures, but in order to properly test the drug on mice, they have to send them to the International Space Station.
“I just remember how exciting it was to be part of a space flight project as a grad student, so being able to have them have that opportunity, I think that that’s really nice,” Dr. Melissa Kacena said as the team packed up lab items for their trip to Florida.
She is the leader of the project and the creator of the bone healing agent being tested.
“The military heard about my fracture healing work and our new bone healing agents, and they were very excited,” Kacena said.
Testing of the drug has been ongoing, but Kacena and her team have run into an issue with the mice being used as test subjects.
“Our animals, they walk immediately after they wake up from the surgery. Our human patients would not be allowed to walk after that kind of surgery, and so by putting the mice up in space — where they can’t walk — we actually think it’s a better model for testing the ability of these drugs to actually work,” Kacena said.
So the mice will board the SpaceX next week after surgery this weekend and blast off for weeks of healing under observation.
“It will help say whether our drug is useful or not, and it will help us just with knowledge as far as how does the healing process work,” Kacena said.
It is also providing a unique opportunity for these Indiana students. Kacena said it has already opened doors for their future careers. But in the end, she hopes it will lead to a safe treatment for those suffering from bone fractures.
“I really think it will help improve our ability to deliver better care,” Kacena said.
While most research includes repeating scientific tests at least three times, Kacena said her team really only has one chance to properly perform their experiments with space flight. If all goes well, Kacena said the research should be compiled with the DOD’s tests and published in about a year.