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02/11/2009 - Press release

Students will experiment in microgravity on board of European Space Agency Flights

Sergio Vaquer, Elisabet Cuyàs, both researchers at the IMIM-Hospital del Mar and students at the UAB and Arnau Rabadán and Albert Gonzalez, interns at the Fundació CIM and students of Industrial Engineering of the UPC will carry out a scientific experiment in microgravity, aboard the Airbus A300 ZERO-G, normally used for the training of ESA astronauts.

The experiment, called the ABCtr MicroG project, will study the behaviour of ABC transporters, biological agents that are responsible for removing drugs and other toxins from human cells, under microgravity conditions.

To conduct the experiment, the students, supported by the Fundació CIM, a technological centre specialised in Production technologies, have developed an electromechanical equipment capable of performing biotechnological experiments in zero gravity.

The development of the prototype was made possible by the co-operation of several companies, including Solvo Biotechnology and Schneider Electric who, as leaders in industrial automation and control, provided virtually 100% of the control and electromechanical elements of the prototype, along with servo drives, HMI screens, robots, engines step, as well as protection in low voltage system. The results of the experiment in microgravity will be compared with those obtained on the ground at the Municipal Institute of Medical Research (IMIM-Hospital del Mar) in Barcelona, where the biotechnological part of the project was developed.

The Catalan team is the only Spanish band elected last December among the 16 finalists (out of 30 European research groups) to participate in this program, an opportunity for students and doctoral students and masters across Europe to conduct a scientific experiment in microgravity conditions.

The parabolic flights

The parabolic flights have originated as part of the training of astronauts. During the flights the aircraft accelerates as it gains altitude, then the engines are 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 maneuvers are repeated up to 30 times during a flight, so that so that researchers, after a campaign that lasts three hours will have had the opportunity to experiment with microgravity over a considerable time.

To embark, the prototype designed by the Catalan team has had to overcome a series of strict tests ensuring the mechanical resistance, electronic security and temperature control of the equipment.

Development of the experiment

The experiment will study the behaviour of ABC transporters, biological agents that are responsible for removing drugs and other toxins from human cells, under microgravity conditions. For this purpose, the students have developed a special protocol to enable the activity of these molecules to be measured very accurately during the 20 seconds of microgravity in each of the 30 parabolas on a parabolic flight. Arnau Rabadán is in charge of the technical part of the experiment that involves designing a mechanism to mix the biomedical fluid and the ABC transporters inside a syringe, activating the chemical reaction. All of this must be done at 37ºC, that is, human body temperature. After 20 seconds the system will introduce a liquid into the syringe to freeze the mixture so that it will not be affected by gravity and the experiment will be repeated in the next parabola.

The mechanism will be regulated by a control system, since the conditions for the experiment and the quantity of liquids to be injected must be precisely set. The control system includes active elements, such as the motor to drive the syringes, and also supervisory elements, such as the censors to regulate the temperature of the syringe where the mixing is done.

The ABCtr Sponsors

Schneider Electric, IMIM Foundation CIM Interempresa, solvent Biotechnology, TecniSample, Lloveras, Safety Engineers, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, Col. • School of Industrial Engineers of Barcelona.

The ABCtr Team
  • Sergi Vaquer, coordinator of the project, has worked as a crew physician at the Crew Medical Support Office of the ESA European Astronaut Centre, Cologne, and is currently a resident physician at the Hospital Parc Taulí in Sabadell (associated with the UAB) and a researcher at the Municipal Medical Research Institute (IMIM) of the Hospital del Mar.
  • Arnau Rabadán is currently on a research scholarship at the Fundació CIM, developing the scientific equipment for this experiment which will be the subject of his final thesis. He studies Mechanical Engineering at the College of Industrial Engineering of Barcelona (EUETIB) of the UPC.
  • Elizabeth Cuyàs studies a doctorate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Faculty of the UAB and is a researcher for the Clinical research team in human pharmacology and neuroscience at the Municipal Institute of Medical Research (IMIM-Hospital del Mar) in Barcelona.
  • Alberto Gonzalez is currently on a research scholarship at the Fundació CIM, developing the automation of the scientific equipment for this experiment which will be the subject of his final thesis. He is studying Industrial Engineering (Electrical specialist) at the College of Industrial Engineering of Barcelona (EUETIB) of the UPC.
  • Felip Fenollosa, Deputy Director of the Foundation and associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering of the UPC, supervised the engineering, manufacturing and tuning of the equipment for the flight.

More images of the development of the project

Web of the project : http://www.abctransporters.com/

Watch videos of the parabolic flight

More news

Contact

Head of Communications:
Rosa Manaut

Communications office:
Marta Calsina(ELIMINAR)

Tel:
(+34) 93 316 06 80
(+34) 699 094 833

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