An innovative experiment underway on the International Space Station could help researchers make new progress in the fight against aggressive neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
The Ring-Sheared Drop experiment, developed and led by Teledyne Brown Engineering of Huntsville, Alabama, will be housed in the station's Microgravity Science Glovebox to enable study of the formation of potentially destructive amyloid fibrils, or protein clusters, like those found in the brain tissue of patients battling neurodegenerative diseases. Such illnesses may cause neurons, the drivers of the human nervous system, to become damaged or inoperative.
Normal brain functions may be disrupted by amyloid fibrils. These proteins can denature -- or lose characteristic properties -- and precipitate out of solution. As they accumulate over time, they may disrupt the healthy function of tissues and organs. In cases of brain function and diseases such as Alzheimer's, that disruption can be profoundly debilitating and even fatal.
"This project is a prime example of the amazing discoveries and advancements possible with partnering between NASA, research and industry," said Jan Hess, president of Teledyne Brown. "Our hope is that this experiment brings the scientific community closer to unlocking the mysteries of this life-altering disease that affects so many people worldwide every day."