April 2, 2020, by School of Medicine

Space Biology, Worms, and MPT

Over at the Royal Derby Hospital, home to our MPT course, there’s some very unique research happening. Professor of Space Biology, Nathaniel Szewczyk, is part of a team that studies why muscle is lost in various clinical situations. This includes muscle disease, confinement to bed, getting diseases associated with getting older, and even spaceflight. They also study drugs and other interventions that can prevent muscle loss.

Professor Szewczyk is part of the Molecular Muscle Experiment in collaboration with the University of Exeter, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the European Space Agency and the UK Space Agency. There are also other international partners across the globe.

The experiment seeks to understand the causes of muscle loss in space and to use this knowledge to find effective therapies.

They’re achieving this by sending worms into space.

Worms and people show similar biological changes in space, including alterations to muscle and the ability to use energy. That’s why they’ve been sending worms to the International Space Station to get answers.

The worms travel in small bags that allow oxygen to pass through from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre to the ISS. While there they have babies which when grown are frozen until their return to Earth.

When they’re back, Professor Szewczyk and the team can study them to see the results of their tests.

Professor Szewczyk is currently a teacher on our MPT course and third year students can choose to work with him for their final year research projects.

Past MPT projects have included:

Optimising experimental conditions for spaceflight experiments

Understanding the importance of mitochondria in maintaining muscle health

Understanding why certain drugs cause muscle loss

And identifying new drugs for preventing muscle loss in space or with muscular dystrophy.

Follow the MME Spaceworms on Twitter: @worms_space

Find out more about MPT at Nottingham

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