Can answers to Alzheimer’s disease be found in outer space? The answer may be yes. Scientists are hoping that experiments held aboard the International Space Station will shine new light on the disease. A World Health Organization estimate indicates that globally 47 million people have Alzheimer’s. Those who have the disease suffer a myriad of symptoms. It's one of the least understood and most feared diseases that is faced by society.
Currently a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s means a bleak future for patients and caregivers. The cause is unknown and there is no cure. Many changes occur in the lives of sufferers as brain functioning deteriorates. Difficulties include an inability to recall the names and faces of friends and even the closest family members. Victims may need help with even the most basic self-care tasks. The lost cognitive functioning will eventually require sufferers to need long-term care in a specialized setting.
Right now doctors can only offer treatment options to slow the disease but not cure it. Scientists have come to a frustrating stalemate. Researchers are turning to an unlikely candidate for answers. The hope is that a space experiment for Alzheimer’s in the weightless environment of the International Space Station will lead to a better understanding of the disease.
According to Space.com one such experiment is happening in 2015. The project name is Self-Assembly in Biology and the Origin of Life: A Study into Alzheimer's, or SABOL for short. Biochemist Shaohua Xu theorizes that disease is caused by deformed proteins that grow into abnormally long fibers in the brain. These malformed fibers may interfere with the normal functioning blocking the proteins that are necessary for brain cells to function.
A space experiment for Alzheimer’s, like SABOL, can only be done through a choreographed sequence. Sam Durrance, with the Florida Institute of Technology is an astronaut and the main researcher testing Xu’s theory. A capsule containing the experiment was shipped to the International Space Station on SpaceX's cargo launch. The team on Earth includes specialists with NASA (and possibly other agencies) who will eventually examine the experiment specimens.
It's anticipated that the proteins being studied will develop faster and more fully in a weightless environment. Researchers caution that answers will not come quickly. However, for the millions of Alzheimer’s sufferers around the globe, such experiments bring the hope that someday, there will indeed be a cure