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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs


VA Research Project on NASA Space Shuttle

March 13, 2008, 08:00:00 AM

Printable Version


Peake: VA Research Will Benefit Veterans, Others

WASHINGTON – A Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) research project, which may lead to development of a vaccine to prevent Salmonella poisoning, was aboard the NASA space shuttle that launched March 11. 

“This space flight is an exciting step in the development of a Salmonella vaccine that will benefit not only our nation’s veterans, but all mankind,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake. “This is a great example of VA working with the private and public sectors on vital research to create a life-saving advancement.” 

The space shuttle Endeavour is transporting research material to the International Space Station.  The research will be used by VA investigators and other researchers to develop a Salmonella vaccine with the potential to save lives and billions of dollars. 

The project came about through the teaming of VA researchers with investigators from the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, Duke University Medical Center, the University Colorado at Boulder, Germany’s Max Planck Institute; and a commercial industry sponsor, SPACEHAB Inc. 

Previous work has identified several genes that weaken Salmonella when they are removed.  One of these weakened strains may be suitable to use in a vaccine, but the Salmonella organism quickly loses its infectious characteristics under normal test circumstances, making it difficult to study. 

Researchers believe the environment of space can bring about key genetic changes in cells that affect the ability of the organism to invade human tissue and cause disease.  

To induce these changes, worms will be grown from eggs on-board the space shuttle.  While in space, the worms will be fed Salmonella.  The extent of damage will be measured when the worms are returned to earth, helping to identify which of the weakened strains is the most effective to use in a vaccine.

“This represents a new approach to vaccine development, as it will be the first time a living organism is infected in space to study its immune response,” said Timothy Hammond, lead VA investigator on the project at the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina.  

Salmonella infection is the most common form of food poisoning in the United States, and leads to a loss of productivity estimated at close to $100 billion annually. Worldwide, Salmonella diarrhea is one of the top three causes of infant mortality. 

Salmonella enterica is a common bacterium found world-wide.  A different strain of the same organism, for which there is now a vaccine, causes typhoid fever, which plagued the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

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