Studying cancer, Southern Research sends bacteria to space

Research is a joint venture with Rhodium Scientific

The Antares rocket sits ready to launch. Photo from Northrop Grumman.

Birmingham-based Southern Research has provided 11 bacterial strains – part of a study of an approach to fighting cancer – that are on board Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket, which launched today in Virginia.

The research project is a joint venture with Rhodium Scientific, based in Texas.

“Southern Research has always been in the business of moving the boundaries of science,” said Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., president and CEO at Southern Research. “This is just the latest example of our team pushing the frontiers to expand our knowledge and find new ways to help people live longer, healthier lives.”

This marks the first time that Southern Research’s cancer research team has collaborated with NASA-supported commercial space researchers. The goal is to explore what happens to bacteria in space and to further explore cancer-fighting properties of small protein fragments called peptides.

“We know that proteins grow differently in a low gravity environment,” said Rebecca Boohaker, Ph.D., director of oncology at Southern Research. “We are looking to see if there are enough differences that would allow us to develop novel cancer therapies.”

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The rocket is headed to the International Space Station, where Rhodium’s science team will work with astronauts to grow the 11 strains under microgravity conditions. They’ll return to Southern Research and be studied.

Southern Research worked with NASA for many years through its previous engineering division, which was sold earlier this year to Kratos, a national defense contractor. Boohaker said the experiments with bacteria give new life to that longstanding collaboration.

“It’s nice to have Southern Research still participate in NASA’s space mission,” she said.

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