Many analyses can only be performed on live tissues and cells, so live return was important to the RR-5 team. When the SpaceX Dragon capsule splashed into the Pacific Ocean last July with the RR-5 live-return mice, the team was elated to find that all 20 mice were alive and healthy. The team also noticed that the fur of the mice was shiny within a day of live return to UCLA, meaning they had been grooming — an indication of contentment.
“Our live return involved full survival of the animals, and they were safe, healthy, and happy,” Kwak said. “This is a huge milestone, and the exciting part for our science team is that all of our data will be very reliable.”
Analyzing Data and Looking to the Future
The RR-5 team is still in the process of analyzing all the data, but preliminary results indicate the investigation was a success. Data from the hind limbs and vertebrae of the spaceflight mice showed significant bone loss from microgravity and a remarkable recovery by BP-NELL-PEG treatment.
“We can unequivocally say that NELL-1 increases bone density in microgravity conditions, which is very exciting,” Soo said. “This success demonstrates the robustness of the therapy to treat extreme bone loss.”
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From here, the team plans to probe deeper into the molecular biology of the NELL-1 protein to gain a more detailed understanding of how the molecule works, while continuing to focus on the practical translational aspects of the therapy.
“We want to look at how we can make this a better osteoporosis treatment for eventual clinical application,” Soo said. “Not only for the millions of osteoporosis patients on Earth but also, in thinking about future space travel and a mission to Mars, we want to see how we can prevent the detrimental effects of microgravity on bones during spaceflight.”
Although modification and use of NELL-1 as a therapy has come far since its discovery more than 20 years ago, there’s still a long journey ahead before this treatment approach can be applied to humans, Ting said.
“But that’s what research is about — you have persistence and tenacity, and you never give up,” he said. “Everyone involved in the RR-5 mission was so devoted and committed to making the project successful, and it shows that if we all have the same goal and push forward, we can achieve anything. The sky is not the limit anymore!”
Originally published at Upward.