Researchers are partnering with NASA to develop a new experiment that will test how amyloid protein clusters—one of the biological markers of Alzheimer’s—form.
Known as the Ring-Sheared Drop experiment, the research is focusing on how amyloid fibrils, or clusters, can be created through something called shear flow—flow velocity between liquid layers.
They will be studying how amyloid fibrils form in liquid layers, and using microgravity to develop them. Microgravity refers to a state in which people, or any solid objects, appear to float in space due to a lower amount of gravity, which pulls everything to the earth.
The goal is to “use the microgravity environment to study the shear stress of action on proteins that can cause them to transform into amyloid structure, to go from a native state to an amyloid state,” Amir Hirsa of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who is working on the research, said in an interview with Being Patient.
“Experimentation in microgravity affords the opportunity to study amyloid fibril formation under conditions that eliminate unwanted effects such as contact with solid walls which can affect the results of normal laboratory experiments,” Kevin Depew, a researcher in the International Space Station Projects Office at NASA, said in a news release. “The team has worked very hard and we are expecting a great return.”
The goal, Hirsa said, is to further “share partnerships with brain specialists so we can extend this work more directly to that community.”
“This project is a prime example of the amazing discoveries and advancements possible with partnering between NASA, research and industry,” Jan Hess, president of Teledyne Brown Engineering which is leading the experiment, said in the news release.
“Our hope is that this experiment brings the scientific community closer to unlocking the mysteries of this life-altering disease that affects so many people worldwide every day,” Hess continued.
Beta-amyloid proteins are a hallmark sign of certain neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. When it accumulates in the brain in the form of plaques, it impairs cell communication and triggers inflammation in the brain. Over time, it destroys neurons and contributes to the memory loss and behavior changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
The amyloid theory has been a major target for Alzheimer’s researchers. Studies have examined how early beta-amyloid begins building up in the brain, and ways to target it to prevent the disease.