On November 17, the second experiment led by The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station (ISS). The project is part of our partnership with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages the ISS U.S. National Laboratory.
The MJFF-sponsored study will attempt to grow crystals of the protein LRRK2 in microgravity conditions, which can result in larger crystals. LRRK2 is a priority target for Parkinson's disease therapies, and the first LRRK2 inhibitor has already reached clinical trials. But we still lack an understanding of the atomic structure of this critical protein. Marco Baptista, PhD, Director, Research Programs at MJFF explains: "LRRK2 therapies have enormous potential for Parkinson's patients. Industry is forging ahead with LRRK2 inhibitors, but can't yet pursue structure-based drug design that fully leverages the insight of the drug's binding pocket. To do that we need to grow better crystals, which we are hopeful we can do on the ISS National Lab."
A previous attempt to grow LRRK2 crystals aboard ISS last year was successful but the resolution wasn't high enough to get an accurate picture of the protein. The team published its results and used feedback from peers to modify the study protocol, which will take advantage of "real time" study monitoring aboard ISS. The team, which includes Paul Reichert of Merck and Sebastian Mathea and Stefan Knapp of Goethe University Frankfurt, will be able to monitor the progress of the ISS crew performing the study and provide feedback to improve the likelihood of success.
Tara Ruttley, associate chief scientist for Microgravity Research at NASA, notes that research aboard the ISS National Lab "provides a platform for us to think differently . . . to best benefit our lives on Earth." The MJFF team has done just that and hopes that, freed from the limitations of Earth's gravity, they will be able to unlock the mysteries of LRRK's structure.
MJFF's experiment will be aboard Northrop Grumman's commercial resupply mission to the ISS; the launch window is now scheduled to open at 4:01 a.m. EST Saturday, November 17 at Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia. (It has been delayed from its original launch date of November 15 due to weather conditions.) In addition to scientific research, the rocket is carrying crew supplies and hardware to support the station's Expedition 57 and 58 crews.
You can watch the launch live online.