A proposed law in the UK could allow British scientists to go to space to conduct medical experiments in zero gravity, potentially leading to the development of better medicines and vaccines.
The UK Space Agency said that the new regulations embodied in the bill and funding could lead to the construction of Britain's first spaceport by the year 2020. Building spaceports would allow the country to launch its own satellites as well as allow British scientists to fly to the edge of space to perform medical studies and experiments.
The experiments could include those that would investigate the human body and medical issues such as aging in zero gravity.
In a statement, the UK Space Agency said that the laws that would pave way for the construction of spaceports will allow scientists to conduct experiments that could help develop medicines such as vaccines and antibiotics in zero gravity.
"The move has the potential to take UK scientists up to space so they can research and develop vaccines and antibiotics, which grow differently where there is no gravity. The flights could also carry out hundreds of vital scientific experiments on medical issues such as aging and the human body," the UK Space Agency said in a statement.
The proposed Spaceflight Bill was announced earlier this February by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Medical Studies In Space
The opportunity to conduct medical studies in space will not only benefit UK scientists. It also has worldwide implications as this could lead to the development of drugs and vaccines that can treat or prevent the spread of deadly and incurable diseases and infections.
The need to develop new medicines has already prompted earlier experiments in space that take advantage of microgravity to better understand diseases.
NASA, for instance, is conducting studies at the International Space Station to look more closely at methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and learn how the pathogen behaves in microgravity. MRSA is resistant to most of the commonly available antibiotics. The space agency hopes that the study can help researchers come up with measures to reduce risk of MRSA infection as well as to develop vaccines against potentially fatal superbugs.
Scientists have also conducted experiments aboard the ISS to determine how the microgravity environment in space affects drugs. It is hoped that the results of the space studies will contribute to the development of new and better medicines.
Researchers have sent strains of Aspergillus nidulans to the ISS, hoping that the extreme environment at the orbiting laboratory could stress the fungi to the extent these would develop characteristics that have not been observed under normal and more favorable conditions on Earth. Fungi are known to make useful medicines when they are stressed out.
"We've done extensive genetic analysis of this fungus and found that it could potentially produce 40 different types of drugs," said Clay Wang, from the University of Southern California. "The organism is known to produce osteoporosis drugs, which is very important from an astronaut's perspective because we know that in space travel, astronauts experience bone loss."