In an article recently published in Microgravity, a Nature Journal, researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute demonstrate a unique method to study the mechanisms behind the formation of amyloid fibrils associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The concept, developed by Amir Hirsa, professor of mechanical, aerospace and nuclear engineering at Rensselaer, is known as the “ring shear drop” (RSD). Take advantage of the microgravity environment provided by the orbit in space to study the effect of shear stress on a drop of protein fluid without interference from the walls of a Petri dish that would traditionally be used to contain the drop on Earth.
Using this method, a syringe dispenses a large drop of liquid in a zero gravity environment. The only thing that prevents it from floating is two thin metal rings. One of those rings can spin, shear -; or applying stress to -; Protein The team is trying to understand how shear stress affects, or even accelerates, the formation of amyloid fibrils.
This technology is currently being used for an experiment aboard the International Space Station to study insulin protein. You can hear Hirsa discuss this here. What researchers find could lead to a greater understanding of what happens when proteins move within the human body and if that contributes to the formation of fibrils.
In this document, the team continues to learn about the physics associated with RSD technology simulating a microgravity environment in the field. The researchers compensated for the effects of gravity by floating the liquid drop in another liquid of the same density. What they discovered, Hirsa said, was unexpected.
We discover that the deformation by fall is the result of a balance between the effects of viscosity and inertia, on the one hand, and surface tension on the other. “
Amir Hirsa, member of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.
That careful balance allowed the team to also learn that the fall can be cut, or increased, more than the researchers expected.
The Rensselaer team also recently received a grant to support new research aimed at improving the manufacturing of pharmaceutical products.
The grant, from the National Science Foundation, will help the study of monoclonal antibody equipment, which are proteins used in many pharmaceutical products. Hirsa and his laboratory want to investigate the fluid mechanics of these proteins in order to understand the best ways to make medicines that contain them.
For example, this fundamental research could help a pharmaceutical company understand what happens when it comes to increasing the production of a drug that has been manufactured in a laboratory.
The research project, which is a partnership with Arizona State University, will lay the groundwork for the first time preparation of the unique Hirsa method that is used to test a protein relevant for the manufacture of pharmaceutical products on board the IAS.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
McMackin, P. M. et al. (2020) Simulated microgravity in the shear ring fall. npj Microgravity. doi.org/10.1038/s41526-019-0092-1.