Any scientist can tell you that research is a time-consuming pursuit. In fact, it can take decades to show results, as the knowledge compounds and inspires additional studies. This building of information is what led to the Recombinant Attenuated Salmonella Vaccine or RASV investigation, which launched to the International Space Station on July 8, 2011.
The investigation combines decades of expertise between two Arizona State University research teams. One team, led by Cheryl Nickerson, Ph.D. specializes in the use of the spaceflight platform to provide insight into how microbial pathogens cause infection and disease in the human body. The other team, led by Roy Curtiss III, Ph.D. focuses on the design and clinical testing of next generation vaccines to protect against diseases caused by pathogenic microbes. In addition, the Arizona State University researchers partnered with Mark Ott, Ph.D., at NASA's Johnson Space Center to strengthen the team's core expertise of space microbiology.
The vaccine samples that were flown on STS-135 are a genetically altered strain of Salmonella that carries a protective antigen against Streptococcus pneumonia -- a bacteria that causes life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia, meningitis, and bacteremia. This organism is responsible for more than 10 million deaths annually and is particularly dangerous for newborns and the elderly, as they are less responsive to current anti-pneumococcal vaccines. "We have the opportunity," commented Nickerson, "to utilize spaceflight as a unique research and development platform for novel applications with potential to help fight a globally devastating disease."