NASA touts space research in anti-cancer fight | Space

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WASHINGTON: Experiments in the weightless environment of space have led to “crazy progress” in the fight against cancer, NASA officials said at a recent event highlighting an important and personal initiative of US President Joe Biden.

Space is “a unique place for research,“ astronaut Frank Rubio said at the event in Washington.

The 48-year-old, a physician and former military helicopter pilot, conducted cancer research during his recent mission to the International Space Station (ISS), orbiting some 400 kilometers (250 miles) above the Earth’s surface.

Not only do cells there age more rapidly, speeding up research, their structures are also described as “purer.”

“They all don’t clump together (as they do) on Earth because of gravity. They are suspended in space, enabling better analysis of their molecular structures,” NASA chief Bill Nelson told AFP in an interview.

Research conducted in space can help make cancer drugs more effective, Nelson added.

Pharmaceutical giant Merck has conducted research on the ISS with Keytruda, an anti-cancer drug that patients now receive intravenously.

Its key ingredient is difficult to transform into a liquid. One solution is crystallization, a process often used in drug manufacturing.

In 2017, Merck conducted experiments to see if the crystals would form more rapidly in space than on Earth.

Nelson used two pictures to demonstrate the difference. The first showed a blurry, transparent spot. But on the second, a large number of clear gray spots had emerged.

That photo showed that smaller, more uniform crystals were forming in space — and “forming better,“ Nelson said.

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Thanks to such research, researchers will be able to make a drug that can be administered by injection in a doctor’s office instead of through long and painful chemotherapy treatments, he added.

Merck identified techniques that can help it imitate the effects of…

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