Michael Braukus Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1979

)

May 1, 1997

Steve Roy Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL (Phone: 205/544-0034) RELEASE: 97-86 NASA AWARDS 36 MICROGRAVITY RESEARCH GRANTS NASA has selected 36 researchers from 19 states and the District of Columbia to receive four-year grants worth $2.8 million for microgravity biotechnology research. This ground-based research will continue to build the foundation for research on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. Sponsored by NASA's Human Exploration and Development of Space Enterprise, through the Office of Life and Microgravity Science and Applications in Washington, DC, and managed by the Microgravity Research Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL, this research is aimed at improving the understanding of physical and chemical processes in the areas of protein crystal growth, cell science and fundamental biotechnology. This selection adds to the 49 researchers already associated with the program managed by Marshall. Involved in microgravity biotechnology research since the early 1970s, Marshall administers the national microgravity biotechnology effort, providing the scientific, technical and management expertise to successfully conduct spaceflight research. Ronald F. Porter, manager of NASA's Biotechnology Program at Marshall, said "Researchers selected for funding will have NASA's microgravity research facilities -- drop-tubes, drop-towers, and aircraft flying parabolic trajectories -- at their disposal. Their work may eventually lead to flight experiments in space." A number of the studies involve cellular growth,

a key field that is fundamental to medical science. To support cell science, researchers can simulate the microgravity conditions of space in NASA's bioreactor, using rotation to suspend cell cultures in a growth medium. This technique -- successfully used to study cancer growth -- improves our ability to grow cells and tissues outside the human body. Some researchers believe the best environment for growing cells is in space, where the lack of gravitational effects makes it easier to maintain a suspension of growing cells. NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, leads the support of cellular growth studies for Marshall. Protein crystal growth research supported by NASA has important applications in medicine, drug design and agriculture. Proteins are complex biochemicals that serve a variety of purposes in living organisms. Crystallized proteins allow scientists to learn the molecular structure of proteins. Determining that structure will lead to a greater understanding of how organisms function. Knowledge of the structure also helps the pharmaceutical industry develop disease-fighting drugs. NASA received 130 proposals in response to its microgravity biotechnology research announcement. These proposals were reviewed by scientific and technical experts outside NASA, including reviewers associated with the National Institutes of Health. - end Editor's Note: A list of the grant recipients is available on the World Wide Web at URL: ftp://ftp.hq.nasa.gov/pub/pao/pressrel/1997/97086a.txt or to media representatives by calling the NASA Newsroom at 202/358-1600.