A deadly Superbug that’s incredibly resistant to current antibiotics will be part of an upcoming SpaceX mission.
Sponsored by NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), SpaceX will launch a lethal pathogen into space and deliver it to the International Space Station (ISS) in a near-zero gravity experiment to assess accelerated mutation rates of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Outer space offers an entirely different environment than earth, so the study can see if mutation patterns will occur in space that have not yet happened on earth. Of particular interest are gene expression and mutation patterns.
MRSA is the cause of infections in hospitalized patients that happen frequently and are very difficult to cure. The ISS microgravity study will be overseen by Dr. Anita Goel, who is a world-renowned expert and pioneer in the emerging field of nanobiophysics. This field examines the intersection of physics, nanotechnology, and biomedicine. Her particular area of interest is how open systems such as life and living systems are strongly intertwined with their environment.
Calling the work on the ISS both “very practical and fundamental,” Dr. Goel’s research is directed toward better prediction of drug resistance and, as a result, smarter drugs. She is especially looking at what she describes as how “the environment can deeply influence the information flow from both the genome and transcriptome.”
The ISS study is quite significant in its potential implications for medicine and drug development. Medical practitioners have a hard time treating many infections due to the current need to first observe the pathogens’ progress, which can be quite elusive, and then treat afterward. The wait-and-see scenario often lets the MRSA get too far ahead. As a result, many of today’s antimicrobial therapies are ineffective, so the ISS study will allow important observation of MRSA patterns of resistance as they occur as well as in their various stages.
Goel and her team will draw upon the very different ISS environment to track MRSA’s activity as it moves from gene expression to mutations, with the goal to predict what might or might not happen with the same process back on earth. Drug development and molecular identification may result, which can help in the fight against future MRSA strains.
Dr. Goel, who is chairperson and CEO of Nanobiosym, won the first XPRIZE in Healthcare for the Gene-RADAR® technology. This is a mobile Tricorder that offers real-time diagnosis of any disease with a genetic fingerprint. It costs about ten times less than comparable diagnostic tests on the market today.