UAE and Saudi astronauts explore effects of space on human cells

Sultan Al Neyadi assists Rayyanah Barnawi with research that could help scientists develop treatments for inflammatory diseases

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UAE and Saudi astronauts are working together on science experiments aboard the International Space Station.

Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi spent some of Thursday helping Saudi Arabia's Rayyanah Barnawi, a research scientist, with her investigation of human immune cells.

She studied the inflammatory response of the cells in microgravity, including the changes in mRNA decay, a process that regulates gene expression changes in cells and can influence the effects of inflammation.

UAE and Saudi astronauts together on the International Space Station. Photo: Nasa

Researchers from Saudi Arabia's King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre sent a type of white blood cell to the ISS that Ms Barnawi is treating with a substance that stimulates an inflammatory response.

The ISS tests are being carried out in parallel with experiments on the ground, to help scientists measure the difference in results.

The findings could help researchers better understand the immune system and develop potential therapies for inflammatory diseases in space and on Earth.

"UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi assisted Ax-2 mission specialist Rayyanah Barnawi in the Kibo laboratory module as she treated samples for a study exploring the effects of microgravity on the inflammatory response of human cells," Nasa said on Thursday.

Aboard the ISS

Ms Barnawi arrived on the ISS on May 22 with compatriot Ali Al Qarni and two Americans, for an eight-day stay as part of a private trip by Houston company Axiom Space – a mission designated Ax-2.

Dr Al Neyadi is there on a six-month mission led by Nasa, known as Expedition 69.

Dr Al Neyadi also helped to set up another experiment for an Ax-2 crew member – the stellar stem cells investigation – which studies human stem cells.

The experiment will investigate how microgravity affects key aspects of stem cell growth, and explore regenerative medicine therapies.

Mr Al Qarni, meanwhile, has set up a cloud seeding experiment that explores techniques to produce artificial rain.

"Moist air and silver iodide crystals [salt] will be mixed in a reaction chamber to examine the possibility of nucleation, where water vapour condenses around the silver crystals to form water droplets," Axiom Space said on Thursday.

"The outcome of this experiment could help develop agricultural technologies to generate artificial rain in future human settlements on the Moon and Mars."

Ms Barnawi and Mr Al Qarni are expected to return to Earth on May 30, while Dr Al Neyadi is expected to return in late August.

Updated: May 26, 2023, 9:01 AM