The Stethoscope

A few nice health news images I found:

The Stethoscope
health news
Image by Alex E. Proimos

Cancer Targeted Treatments from Space Station Discoveries (NASA, International Space Station, 02/26/14)
health news
Image by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center
Greetings to all! This image drew me into a great story about cancer research being aided by research aboard the International Space Station. Very interesting stuff. This is the largest image I have right now, but I’ll repost if something larger becomes available…

Photo caption: The oil (blue) contains a visualization marker that is traceable by ultrasound and C-T scans to allow doctors to follow the microcapsules (brown) during site-specific delivery to the tumor. The semipermeable outer skin has the physical ability to time-release the drug slowly.

Story: Invasive and systemic cancer treatment is a necessary evil for many people with the devastating diagnosis. These patients endure therapies with ravaging side effects, including nausea, immune suppression, hair loss and even organ failure, in hopes of eradicating cancerous tissues in the body. If treatments targeted a patient’s cancerous tissues, it could provide clinicians with an alternative to lessen the delivery of toxic levels of chemotherapy or radiation.

Imagine the quality of life from such therapies for patients. Remarkably, research that began in space may soon result in such options here on Earth.

As we recognize February as National Cancer Prevention Month, it is useful to also point out the continuous improvements to cancer treatment through research and discovery. Using the distinctive microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station, a particular series of research investigations is making further advancements in cancer therapy.

A process investigated aboard the space station known as microencapsulation is able to more effectively produce tiny, liquid-filled, biodegradable micro-balloons containing specific combinations of concentrated anti-tumor drugs. Using specialized needles, doctors can deliver these micro-balloons, or microcapsules, to specific treatment sites within a cancer patient. This kind of targeted therapy may soon revolutionize cancer treatment delivery.

Use of the microgravity environment aboard the space station for microencapsulation experiments was a necessity before the ability to develop an Earth-based technology for making these microcapsules. “The technique that we have for making these microcapsules could not be done on the ground, because the different densities of the liquids would layer,” explained Dennis Morrison, Ph.D., retired NASA principal investigator of the Microencapsulation Electrostatic Processing System-II (MEPS-II) study and current vice president and director for microencapsulation research and development at NuVue Therapeutics, Inc. “But in space, since there is not sedimentation due to gravity, everything goes spherical.”

The MEPS operations in microgravity brought together two liquids incapable of mixing on Earth (80 percent water and 20 percent oil) in such a way that spontaneously caused liquid-filled microcapsules to form as spherical, tiny, liquid-filled bubbles surrounded by a thin, semipermeable outer membrane.

In space, surface tension shapes liquids into spheres. Each molecule on a liquid’s surface is pulled with equal tension by its neighbors. The closely integrated molecules form into the smallest possible area, which is a sphere. In effect, the MEPS-II system allowed a combination of liquids in a bubble shape because surface tension forces took over and allowed the fluids to interface rather than sit atop one another.

“We were able to figure out what parameters we needed to control so we could make the same kind of microcapsules on the ground,” said Morrison. “Now, we no longer have to go to space. Space was our teacher, our classroom to figure out how we could make these on Earth.”

Though the MEPS-II technology was produced on the space station in 2002, the ensuing global economic struggles and funding hurdles made it difficult to raise investor capital for new clinical trials of the microcapsules in humans. This gap in the research slowed movement from discovery to an actual product that improves human health.

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Image credit: NuVue Therapeutics, Inc.

More about space station research:

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