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Microgravity experiment to map protein linked to Parkinson's disease

Experiment could help researchers develop blockers for LRRK2

NASA Astronaut Jack Fischer works within the Japanese Experiment Module on CASIS PCG 6. CASIS PCG 7 will utilize the orbiting laboratory's microgravity environment to grow larger versions of LRRK2, implicated in Parkinson's disease.
NASA Astronaut Jack Fischer works within the Japanese Experiment Module on CASIS PCG 6. CASIS PCG 7 will utilize the orbiting laboratory's microgravity environment to grow larger versions of LRRK2, implicated in Parkinson's disease. (NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Parkinson’s disease researchers are hoping the microgravity environment on the International Space Station will allow them to create blockers for one of the most common causes of the genetic disease.

The experiment launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 Monday afternoon from Kennedy Space Center along with 6,000 pounds of other supplies and experiments to the International Space Station.

Actor Michael J. Fox made an appearance in a prelaunch coverage video discussing the Parkinson’s disease research. Fox created a foundation for Parkinson’s research after his own diagnosis in 1998.

The experiment is one of hundreds at a time under investigation on the U.S. National Laboratory aboard ISS, managed by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS.

“It was an honor to partner with CASIS on behalf of the PD (Parkinson’s disease) community on Earth,” Fox said.

Microgravity conditions in space will allow protein crystals called leucine-rich repeat kinase 2, or LRRK2, to grow larger and in more perfect shapes than on Earth. The important protein is one of the most common genetic causes for Parkinson’s disease in select ethnic groups.

According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, mutated LRRK2 account for 15 to 20 percent of Parkinson’s cases among certain ethnic groups.

 “For over 10 years no one has been able to crystal and solve the structure of LRRK2,” Dr. Marco Baptista, with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, said. “We’re hoping that under microgravity conditions we will improve the resolution.”

Crystallization works better in low gravity, researcher on the experiment Dr. Sebastian Mathea, of the University of Oxford, said. The larger proteins allow scientists to better study their behavior.

Having the structure will allow researchers to develop inhibitors and therapies for LRRK2, according to NASA.


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