Al Neyadi in a file photo onboard the International Space Station
Al Neyadi in a file photo onboard the International Space Station Image Credit: Twitter/@Astro_Alneyadi

Dubai: After welcoming his two Saudi counterparts to the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi has swung into action to support their space experiments.

The Sultan of Space, who is on the longest Arab space mission aboard the ISS, was joined by Rayyanah Barnawi, the first female Arab astronaut, and her colleague Ali Al Qarni, to form the largest group of Najmonauts (Arab astronauts) in space.

The duo along with their Axiom Mission-2 (Ax-2) crew members Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner are expected to conduct experiments on board the space station for eight days.

Al Neyadi, who turned 42 on Tuesday, has spared no time in assisting them with their science experiments, according to an update from the US space agency NASA.

“In the middle of the new crew adaptation activities, there was still time for ongoing space science and lab maintenance activities,” stated NASA.

Al Neyadi set up the Stellar Stem Cells experiment, an Ax-2 investigation, that will explore regenerative medicine therapies, it added.

One of the best-known types of regenerative medicine, stem cell therapy promotes the repair response of diseased, dysfunctional or injured tissue using stem cells or their derivatives. It is the next chapter in organ transplantation and uses cells instead of donor organs, which are limited in supply.

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What is the experiment about?

“Establishing In-Space Production of Stem Cell Therapies [Stellar Stem Cells (Ax-2)] on the Axiom-2 [Ax-2] private astronaut mission [PAM] evaluates the impact of gravity on terrestrial methods used to generate, proliferate, and differentiate stem cells into a variety of tissue types,” said NASA.

PAMs are privately funded, fully commercial flights to the ISS on a commercial launch vehicle that are dedicated to commercial research, outreach, or approved commercial and marketing activities.

Stellar Stem Cells (Ax-2) expands on previous preliminary parameter-setting studies performed in microgravity by the Study of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs) in Microgravity (Production of Stem Cells for Personalized Medicine) investigation and serves as a precursor to future missions. It evaluates the impact of microgravity on experimental steps involved in stem cell reprogramming, differentiation and manufacturing.

How will it benefit?

Insight into stem cell growth in space may help address the challenges that currently limit using these cells as therapies in regenerative medicine, NASA pointed out.

This investigation is a precursor to more extensive research on future ISS missions.

“Understanding how microgravity affects the key aspects of stem cell growth and transfection/lipofection may help overcome some of the technical issues associated with stem cell proliferation and differentiation and establish the utility of growing cells in low-Earth orbit. Investigation results will guide the next missions and ultimately help develop a basis for regenerative medicine stem cell manufacturing technology on orbit.”

This study may lead to mechanisms capable of improving biomanufacturing of cellular therapeutics on Earth, and/or serve as a catalyst for future large-scale, in-orbit manufacturing of stem cell-derived products.

By studying how microgravity impacts the growth and differentiation of iPSCs in space, investigators may advance regenerative medicine efforts on Earth while learning more about the effects of radiation and microgravity on the health and capacity of human cells in space.

The capability to produce stem cells in microgravity could support development of regenerative medicine therapies to maintain crew health on long-duration space missions. This project could also help define methods for stem cell production on orbit to address challenges that limit the full potential of stem cell therapies, improving the quality of life for people on Earth, NASA added.

‘Something special’

On Wednesday, Al Neyadi shared a tweet about his “friend” Astrobee, which he described as "a free-flying space robot, assisting us in our daily tasks, scientific experiments and educational activities. Astrobee and I are preparing something special. Stay tuned".

Celebrating Oman ties

Also on Wednesday, Al Neyadi choose Oman for his latest photo from space. Sharing a view of the two neighbouring countries from the orbital laboratory more than 400km above Earth, he posted: “#Oman and #UAE united as one from space. Celebrating the strong ties and shared heritage that bind us.” In his Arabic tweet, he added that the image was ‘the most beautiful expression of the brotherhood” between the two countries.

Al Neyadi had earlier shared several space images of various Arab countries with his followers and had also posted a video that gives a space tour of the pan-Arabian region.