Kristina Andrijauskaite, a Ph.D. candidate in our Translational Science program at UT Health San Antonio has been working on a space related project.
Project McXIMUS, which stands for Microgravity characterization eXperiment in Microgravity Universal Spacelab, is the name of the scientific payload launched on the 11th Mission of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle.
It was the result of continuous collaboration between the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) and the UT Health San Antonio, led by Dr. Pedro Llanos, Assistant Professor in Spaceflight Operations at ERAU.
Live zebrafish embryos from Dr. Myron Ignatius’ laboratory at the Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute took an 11-min trip to suborbital space on the same rocket, scheduled to fly humans later this year.
This project was the collaborative effort of several years of work initiated in 2016 on conducting zebrafish feasibility studies at the Medical University of South Carolina by Dr. Llanos and Andrijauskaite. The team previously carried murine T-cells to space in 2017.
“It was truly amazing to participate in all stages of the preparation of this exciting scientific payload,” Andrijauskaite said. “As translational scientists, we always describe our research as “from bench to bedside and back,” but in this case it was more like “from bench to space and back.”
McXIMUS project examines molecular mechanisms of microgravity effect and other flight stressors on vascular physiology and stress response in zebrafish embryos.
This was the first time Blue Origin launched zebrafish embryos (in-vivo experiment) to space aboard New Shepard rocket.
The McXIMUS project was facilitated by combining interdisciplinary efforts brought together by researchers with diverse scientific backgrounds. Dr. Ignatius lab members Kunal Baxi and Nicole Hensch enthusiastically agreed to collaborate on attempting to tackle the most challenging aspects of space travel. This continuous research collaboration between ERAU and UT Health San Antonio is a powerful example of what scientists from different disciplines could accomplish.
She explained that researchers hope to enhance our understanding of space parameters that can give insights into molecular pathways mediating astronauts’ vascularization system and stress response, which will further assist in mapping out the strategies aimed to minimize space travel effects, such as muscle atrophy. Data derived from this experiment is currently being analyzed and compiled into scientific manuscripts.
“Our multidisciplinary research collaboration with UT Health San Antonio has been one the greatest research experiences I have been part and learned the value of translational research between different disciplines where science and technology meet to propel our understanding of space flight side effects,” Dr. Llanos said. “Working together as a team is a very rewarding experience.”
This article was written by Kristina Andrijauskaite, M.S., M.Ed., a Ph.D. candidate in the Translational Science Ph.D. program and Pedro J. Llanos, Ph.D., M.S. Assistant Professor of Spaceflight Operations, Supervisor of Payload Applied Technology and Operations (PATO) Lab, Supervisor of Suborbital Space Flight Simulator (SSFS) Lab, Applied Aviation Sciences, College of Aviation, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.