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22 January 2009 - General information

A project to improve knowledge about the behaviour of pharmaceuticals in space, sponsored by IMIM, selected by the European Space Agency

The ABCtr MicroG project was recently selected, from among many other European initiatives, as one of the four best projects to fly with the European Space Agency (ESA) this October on its 51st campaign of parabolic flights as part of the “Fly your Thesis!” project. This project offers PhD and master’s degree students the opportunity to design, build and carry out a scientific experiment in microgravity.

The final phase of project selection took place during a workshop held in November at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne (Germany), and the selection was made from among numerous outstanding projects from across Europe by a Review Board of renowned scientists from the ESA, the European Low Gravity Research Association (ELGRA) and Novespace.

This project is coordinated by Sergi Vaquer, a doctoral student at the UAB, together with Arnau Rabadán, an industrial engineering student from the UPC. Developed under the auspices of IMIM’s Human Pharmacology and Neurosciences Clinical Research Group and the CIM Foundation, a specialist in engineering and technological development, the project is encompassed in a more ambitious project that aims to develop autonomous systems of medical treatment in microgravity. The project will be implemented during a campaign of parabolic flights aboard an Airbus A300 ZERO-G that some astronauts use as part of their training. During the flights, the aircraft accelerates as it gains altitude, and then the engine speed is reduced to a minimum for 20 seconds while the plane traces a parabola in freefall. For these 20 seconds, conditions close to zero gravity are attained within the cabin. These manoeuvres are repeated up to 30 times during each flight, so that after completing the three flights of a campaign, the researchers will have had the opportunity to experiment with microgravity over a considerable amount of time.

ABC transporters are one of the primary active transport systems of medications for human cells. Studying them in microbiology is a modern, innovative and original idea for establishing a base for future study of pharmaceutical behaviour in space. This new approach will contribute very relevant information for improving human therapeutics in space, especially in terms of the safe use of pharmaceuticals during space travel. Given the current increase in programmed flights and above all in their durations, it is more and more probable that astronauts will need medications administered during flights.

It is hoped that the results of this project will be useful for learning about the effects of microgravity on the molecular level, and that, to complement this, they will enhance our current knowledge about the way in which these mechanisms contribute to many diseases on earth, such as cancer and HIV infection.

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