Israeli-Italian collaboration to study the behaviour of antibacterial materials in space

The microgravity research will take place in a miniature laboratory onboard a nanosatellite.
By Tammy Lovell
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Researchers from Israel and Italy are collaborating on a space project to examine the resistance of bacteria that cause human diseases.

The study, planned for March, will see four experiments conducted remotely on a nanosatellite, provided by Israeli company SpacePharma.

Scientists will examine the influence of antibacterial materials on bacteria in zero-gravity conditions. It is hoped the results will help with the development of new means to prevent and treat antibiotic resistant infections.

The experiments are based on research by Professor Giuseppe Falini of the University of Bologna and Professor Boaz Pokroy of the Israel’s Institute of Technology, the Technion.

They will be carried out by scientists at the Technion, the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, and Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

WHY IT MATTERS

The problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a serious worldwide health issue which can lead to severe illness and death.

Previous studies have shown that the microgravity of space can alter the characteristics of bacteria and affect their response to antibiotics. This study aims provide further insight into how antibiotic-resistant bacteria develop.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

Space has become an area of increased exploration for medical research. With humans setting sight on landing in Mars within the next 20 years, maintaining the health of the astronauts is one major challenge for scientists and researchers. At the Space Health Innovation Conference in November last year, NASA scientists, astronauts and partners discussed the future of space health.

A recent case study in the New England Journal of Health outlined how telehealth was used to treat a NASA astronaut who suffered from a blood clot while in space. Using telemedicine, doctors onboard the ISS performed a follow-up ultrasound with the help of two radiologists on Earth. After the blood clot was confirmed, a team of multiple physicians on Earth evaluated the patient. 

ON THE RECORD

Israel Space Agency director, Avi Blasberger, told Israel Hayom newspaper: “Until today all the experiments in microgravity conditions have been conducted in the international space station and supervised by astronauts. This current Israeli-Italian cooperation will allow any scientist to conduct their experiments, with better access and independence.”

Italian Space Agency director Giorgio Saccoccia said: “This experiment is not only a great example of the close relationship between the two countries, it could also have significant business potential. Italy and Israel have been walking hand in hand for years now, and this trend is only getting stronger. Italy is very interested in space economy and technology and sees space as a new arena for business opportunities.”