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Health Center Today, July 21, 2010

School of Dental Medicine Researchers Awarded NASA Grant

Shuttle Discovery Mission to Study the Effects of Travel in Space

By Carolyn Pennington

Photo of Yifrah Kaminer, M.D., M.B.A.

The home team: seated Dr. Natasha Larson; standing left to right students David Manz and Mikhail Tsesis, electron microscopy specialist Maya Yankova and Professor Arthur Hand. Inset: Dr. Maija Mednieks, PI.

School of Dental Medicine researchers Drs. Art Hand and Maija Mednieks have been awarded a NASA grant to study the effects of zero gravity on hormone action. Their previous work on both U.S. and Russian missions has shown that under zero gravity conditions (ØG) a protein that is regulated by catecholamine hormone action (fight-or-flight hormones) and associated with stress responses is significantly altered when secreted into oral fluid.

The experiments, conducted using mice flown on the extended 15-day shuttle Discovery STS-131 mission, were designed to enlarge the scope of secretory protein effects including analyzing proteins that serve as biomarkers for a variety of physiologic functions. The goal is to determine if travel in space alters the ability to respond to environmental stress and if that can be measured in an easily obtainable biofluid, in this case saliva. Ultimately the goal is to apply these findings to measure reactions of astronauts and to eventually devise a clinical test for related disorders on earth.

Discovery lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on April 5 and Mednieks was there for the launch. The shuttle made a perfect landing on April 20, and both Hand and Mednieks spent several busy days collecting samples for shipment to the UConn Health Center, where they are currently being analyzed. The STS-131 is one of the last U.S. shuttle missions to carry a biology payload so the experiments represent a unique opportunity to gather data on the biological effects of space flight.


Photo of Yifrah Kaminer, M.D., M.B.A.

Dr. Larry Hoffman, UCLA, and Dr. Art Hand, UConn Health Center, two of some dozen PIs performing dissections at the Space Life Sciences Laboratory at the Kennedy Space Center.

Photo of Yifrah Kaminer, M.D., M.B.A.

Dr. Art Hand, UConn Health Center, in the Space Life Sciences Laboratory where the samples are collected after the shuttle lands.