Some of the core beliefs about what causes Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases may be wrong, and flying an experiment on the International Space Station (ISS) could provide the best way to show it. Scientists at Kennedy Space Center, working with the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT), want to send a set of proteins to the ISS where the material would be free to collect together into large, complex structures without gravity tearing them apart.

This device from NASA’s Glenn Research Center would be central in studying protein growth in space. (NASA)
Their thought is that Alzheimer’s and other diseases including those that develop from head injuries in sports occur not because normal proteins become corrupted, but because with aging, or after repeated concussions, changes occur in the environment within the brain that cause certain proteins to cling together in ever-larger threads that choke off brain cells, slowly depriving a person of memories and brain functions.

David Tipton, chief medical officer at Kennedy, said current theories about the cause of Alzheimer’s and similar diseases perhaps misidentify the problem. “We believe it may be a colloidal chemical process rather than a biochemical process,” he said. This theory could “allow a different approach by the pharmaceutical and medical industries to potentially come up with new treatments for these diseases.” Visit www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/about/research/alzresearch.html for more information.

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