Bone growth study set to launch aboard the International Space Station

An 18-year-old project that evaluates bone growth in mammals will finally take flight aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Astronauts on the space station will work with scientists on the ground to test a potential new therapy for accelerating bone growth in humans.

NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) are collaborating on the study, called Systemic NELL-1 Therapy for Spaceflight-induced Osteoporosis. The mission will send 40 rodents into space to live in a microgravity environment for two months to evaluate how well NELL-1, a bone-forming molecule, will prevent osteoporosis and induce bone development.

The project is from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Dentistry. Although it was initially funded almost two decades ago by the American Association of Orthodontists Foundation (AAOF), it is finally scheduled to launch in 2016.

"The AAOF was the very first group that put not only their support, but also their trust in an orthodontic junior faculty 18 years ago and proved that reaching for the sky -- or heading into space -- is not a dream but rather a reality 18 years later," stated Kang Ting, DMD, DMedSc, a professor and the chair of the division of growth and development and the section of orthodontics at the UCLA School of Dentistry, in a press release.

The results of the project may affect osteoporosis treatments back on Earth, such as jaw restoration after tooth loss.

"CASIS is proud to work alongside UCLA in an effort to promote the station as a viable platform for bone loss inquiry," stated Warren Bates, director of portfolio management for CASIS, in the release. "Through investigations like this, we hope to make profound discoveries and enable the development of therapies to counteract bone loss ailments common in humans."

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