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NASA Develops Space Crystal To Elevate Drug Development On Earth

First Posted: Apr 04, 2017 03:45 AM EDT
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Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are asked to conduct a research involving the cultivation of space crystals. This could help in elevating the process for drug development by allowing protein mapping, which could benefit the human beings on Earth.

Digital Trends pointed out that crystals are nurtured differently in space than on the planet Earth. In this study, the researchers will investigate why crystals have fewer imperfections and larger sizes when developed in microgravity. By tending crystals in space, the scientists could identify the intricacies of these proteins and modify this process to produce better blueprints.

The chemist must know and understand a structure of the proteins the drugs projected to interrelate with to create an efficient drug. On the other hand, the complexity of designing drug is that proteins are minute in size and must be crystallized to expose their 3D blueprint. The crystal-growing processes in space could lead to efficient blueprints and drug development.

It is theorized that crystals grown in space have fewer imperfections probably because they grow gradually in microgravity due to lack of buoyancy-induced convection. There is also an increased level of purification that could be achieved in microgravity. A pre-crystal may have thousands of copies of a single protein.

When the crystals are returned to planet Earth, they will be exposed to an X-ray beam. With the X-ray diffraction pattern, the protein could be mathematically mapped, according to Laboratory Equipment.

Lawrence DeLucas, LMM Biophysics 1 primary investigator, explained that once the proteins were purified to grow crystals, the protein molecules could stick to each other in a random fashion. He further explained that these protein aggregates could then be integrated into growing crystals, causing defects and bother the protein alignment. This then lessens the crystal's X-ray diffraction quality.

Researchers will further expand their knowledge on conducting studies such as the LMM Biophysics 1 that will tackle why the space-grown crystals are of higher quality than that on Earth. Meanwhile, the LMM Biophysics 3 will examine which crystals could benefit from crystallization in space. These will all contribute to the efficiency of drug development on the planet Earth.

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