UAH biologists pore over results from successful crystal experiment from ISS

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)  - A team of biologists from UAH is hoping for the start of big things this year from an experiment they sent to the International Space Station last April.

The results came back in October and the team has been working feverishly to process them. It's a huge amount of data for a project aimed at improving drugs to stop various common diseases.

UAH Biology Professor Joe Ng and his colleagues are breathing easier now after working non-stop over the holidays with the present from space.

"It was a mixed blessing," said Ng with a nervous smile.

He's talking about a huge cache of results from microscopic crystals he and his team sent last April to grow at the ISS.

"This is the first time we've actually sent hundreds of samples up there and over 90 percent of them actually gave out terrific results," said Ng.

It's what he and his colleagues were hoping for as they try to dissect the molecular composition of bacteria that cause several miserable human diseases.

Unfortunately, the results came in at the beginning of the holidays.

"It was a little bit difficult to focus and get things done very rapidly," said Ng.

The team had 30 days to process the results and turn around a report of the findings to their colleagues.

In short, the crystals grew for six months in microgravity, absent of convection, gravity and other variables on earth.

Now, the biologists are using X-rays to defract the crystals.  Then, they'll use mathematical calculations to figure out the composition of the molecules.

Understanding that composition could give scientists what they need to create blockers to stop the molecules from going rogue and causing sickness in humans.

"This is the making of an antibiotic," said Ng.  "This is a pretty competitive field as well too and any type of molecules or work that has a potential drug target is of big pharmaceutical interest."

He added this is a significant development in a race against other countries, such as Japan and China,  trying to come up with better medicine to benefit the world.

The team plans to submit applications and paperwork to send up another experiment aimed at the Ebola virus.

The biologists would work to figure out the weaknesses in the Ebola virus that could be manipulated in order to kill it.

Click here for WHNT News 19's original story on the experiment that Ng sent up to space aboard a Spacex Three Dragon Cargo mission.