by Chloe Rowley, University of Bristol’s Press Office
A team of student biologists from Bristol University have been selected to take part in the European Space Agency (ESA) Education Office ”Spin Your Thesis! 2018 programme”, which will take place in the Netherlands this September. Through the experiment, the Bristol Bone Biologists hope to achieve a deeper understanding around the onset and development of Osteoarthritis, by examining the effect of hypergravity conditions on the developing skeleton of Zebrafish.
The team, called Bristol Bone Biologists, are one of two student teams to have been chosen to conduct their experiments in hypergravity conditions at the Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) premises at ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Centre), Noordwijk, the Netherlands. The team recently completed a gravity-related experiment training week in Belgium, at the European space Security and Education Centre (ESEC). The training has equipped them with the techniques needed to run their experiment successfully, as well as enjoying talks from astronaut Reinhold Ewald and a range of ESA scientists.
The Bristol team, consisting of students Elizabeth Lawrence, PhD student in Dynamic Molecular Cell Biology, and Jessye Aggleton, PhD student in Anthropology and Archaeology, will be running their experiment alongside the University of Amsterdam’s Team Avalanche. Both teams were selected from a large international pool of entrants following a competitive application process.
Through the experiment, the Bristol Bone Biologists hope to achieve a deeper understanding around the onset and development of Osteoarthritis. By examining the effect of hypergravity conditions on the developing skeleton of Zebrafish, the team aim to model how the cells in cartilage, bone and joint tissues experience changes in response to loading using a range of imaging techniques and computer modelling. In doing so, the project aims to see how very early changes to cells lead to long term changes to the joint that cause Osteoarthritis. These findings will help to inform current treatments for the disease.
What researchers says about the project
Elizabeth Lawrence, University of Bristol PhD student and Bristol Bone Biologist team member said: “We’re absolutely delighted to be given this fantastic opportunity to conduct our experiment using ESA’s facilities. Without it, we would be unable to undertake much-needed investigation into the effect of altered loading on cells, hard tissue and soft tissue in the joint. We plan to use a zebrafish model in our experiment to help us understand how altered gravity and Osteoarthritis associated genes may change joint formation in early development.”
According to her, this project will use hypergravity to increase loading on the developing skeleton of Danio rerio (Zebrafish) in order to analyse changes associated with Osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease globally, with 8 million people suffering from this disease in the UK alone. Astronauts returning from space are also more at risk of developing osteoarthritis than the general population. Currently there is no cure: the only treatments available focus on pain relief and ultimately joint replacement. While we know that Genetics and Mechanical loading (through use of the joint) are the major risks for Osteoarthritis, but we still don’t completely understand how either affects the cells of the joint in the early stages of disease. Zebrafish develop rapidly, share most of their genes with Homo Sapiens, and are translucent. This allows us to watch cells in the living fish, how they organise to form the skeleton and to test for changes in response to genes or Mechanical loading.
Using normal Zebrafish and those carrying a mutation in a gene that causes severe early onset Osteoarthritis in humans, we will model how the cells experience changes to loading using computer modelling and test how exposure to hypergravity affects cartilage, bone and joint development. As well as looking at the shape of the skeleton, we will also look in detail at how the cells behave: how they make the matrix that gives the skeleton its properties; whether the cells divide, move or die and how this affects the whole structure. By doing this we hope to see how very early changes to cells lead to long term changes to the joints that cause the disease. It will also inform us whether the genes that lead to premature Osteoarthritis do so by making the cells of the skeleton more sensitive to altered loading than those of people without these mutations. If so we may be able to identify new treatments that work well in different groups of people.
About the European Space Agency (ESA) Education Programme
– The European Space Agency (ESA) Education Programme has the objective to inspire and motivate young people to enhance their literacy and competence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM disciplines), and to pursue a career in these fields, in the space domain in particular.
– It offers a number of exciting activities that range from training and classroom activities that use space as a teaching and learning context for school teachers and pupils, to real space projects for university students.
– The Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) has been developed by ESA allowing the acquisition of measurement points in the range from 1 to 20 g.
– This instrument can provide a hypergravity environment for cells, plants and small animals, as well as physical science and technological experiments.
– The LDC is part of the Life and Physical Sciences Instrumentation and Life Support Laboratory (LIS) at ESTEC (the Netherlands), dedicated to serve the science and technology user communities throughout Europe.
– A wide range of hypergravity experiments can be undertaken in the LDC facility, in particular biology, biochemistry, microbiology, optical physics, material sciences, fluid dynamics, geology and plasma physics investigations can be performed.
– The diameter of the LDC is eight metres. It has four arms each of which can support two gondolas with a maximum payload of 80 kg per gondola. In practice however, up to six gondolas can be used for an experiment plus one additional gondola in the centre for control or reference purposes.
The countdown is now on for summer and the team will be focussing on preparations for their experiment. In September, each team will have two and a half days to perform their experiment in hypergravity conditions with support from ESA experts. Bristol Bone Biologists have been assigned a member of the European Low Gravity Research Association (ELGRA) as a mentor who will also be on hand to provide advice and expertise in gravity-related research.
Note: Complete information will be available in article which will be publishing in April 2018 issue of Biotech Express Magazine. Please keep in touch or subscribe for auto delivery from here.
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