Amgen teams with NASA on a new biotech space mission

The final mission on NASA's 30-year Space Shuttle program will blast off with a biotech experiment in its payload. Scientists from Amgen, UCB as well as academia are dispatching a team of 30 mice which will get either an antibody that blocks the protein sclerostin or a placebo. The theory is that by inhibiting sclerostin scientists believe they can prevent the bone loss that commonly occurs in low-gravity environs.

"This proof-of-principle study will enhance our understanding of the science behind the sclerostin antibody and arm us with important research to support potential future therapeutic applications in both astronauts and patients suffering from bone loss," notes Amgen Scientific Executive Director Chris Paszty, PhD. The sclerostin molecule inhibits bone formation produced by osteocytes, bone cells which form a "nerve-like" network that enable the skeleton to "feel" and respond to mechanical strain.

Amgen, of course, has made bone strength a key focus in its R&D efforts for some years now. And NASA hopes to see if this new approach could help future generations of astronauts.

"One in two women and one in five men over age 50 will suffer a fracture resulting from osteoporosis [and bone loss] during their remaining lifetime," explains co-principal investigator Mary Bouxsein, PhD. "These fractures have profound personal and societal consequences. With the increasing age of the population there is urgent need to develop bone-building therapies to prevent this type of potentially debilitating injury."

- here's the release