Astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi concludes KFSH&RC experiments aboard the International Space Station

Saudi astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi has concluded the implementation of King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center (KFSH&RC) cell science experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The experiments aim to study the response of immune cells and the effect of some treatments in inflammatory conditions, increase knowledge about biological changes that can occur in the space environment, monitor the activity of thousands of genes in immune cells exposed to inflammation over time, and examine the course of pathological processes for potential preventive and early treatments.

 The scientific experiments took place over four days. KFSH&RC’s Riyadh-based research team supervised and monitored the experiments via live broadcast from the International Space Station to the BioServe Space Technologies research center in collaboration with NASA. The research team was led by Dr. Khalid Abu Khabar, Chairman of the Department of Molecular Biomedicine and Research Scientist at KFSH&RC, with the participation of Dr. Wejdan Al-Ahmadi and Dr. Edward Hitti.

The experiments go through several stages. The first stage begins with preparing live cells in special containers, which are then incubated for 48 hours to adapt to microgravity conditions. During the second stage, compounds with therapeutic properties will be added to inhibit enzymes that stimulate the production of proteins responsible for several inflammatory and tumor diseases. The third stage is completed by adding an inflammatory reaction catalyst to produce biological reactions in the cell. In the fourth and final stage, chemically treated and untreated samples are collected and preserved at different times, ranging from half an hour to twenty hours, to monitor any changes in the mRNA lifespan.

In conjunction with the experiments conducted aboard the International Space Station in microgravity, Dr. Wejdan Al-Ahmadi will perform the same experiments in an environment with strong gravity at the BioServe laboratory in cooperation with NASA. Al-Ahmadi will analyze the samples comprehensively and compare the effects of microgravity and strong gravity on the results.

The results of the experiments are expected to contribute to a better understanding of human health while in space and to reveal vital signs or potential treatments for inflammatory diseases both in space and on Earth.

The scientific experiments conducted by KFSH&RC are within the framework of the Kingdom’s astronauts’ program. The experiments are considered one of the most important programs of the National Space Strategy, which has been approved by the Supreme Space Council, headed by His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince and Prime Minister. In its first phase, the program aims to send two Saudi astronauts on a manned flight to the ISS, at an altitude of approximately 420 km above the Earth’s surface.

 It is scheduled that the two Saudi astronauts and the mission crew will conduct 14 pioneering scientific research experiments in microgravity, the results of which will enhance the Kingdom’s global position in space exploration and serve humanity.

KFSH&RC is classified among the most prominent hospitals providing specialized healthcare worldwide. Brand Finance’s 2023 ranking ranked the hospital in the top 20 of the world’s best healthcare institutions and first in the Middle East and Africa.


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