Still from clip showing Sultan Al Neyadi onboard the International Space Station explaining the experiment Image Credit: Screengrab/Twitter

Dubai: UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi today announced his participation in a breakthrough diabetes research project in space.

Government of Dubai Media Office tweeted a video in which Al Neyadi explained the details of the Maleth project that aims to advance medicine for treating type 2 diabetes, in a collaborative effort between international entities, including the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Dubai.

With this experiment, Al Neyadi said, “the scientists aim to improve the efficiency of treating diabetic foot ulcers and make a real difference in the lives of people affected by this condition”.

Extending his greetings to Earth in the video, Al Neyadi said he had the privilege of supporting the “interesting research experiment in biomedical science and healthcare, which uses the space environment to conduct research, which is strongly relevant to life on Earth”.

He highlighted that diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy and close to half a billion people are living with diabetes worldwide, and the number is projected to increase in the years to come.

The study aims to identify important biomarkers found in the human skin microbiome that can potentially be targeted for therapy.

What is a diabetic foot ulcer?
An ulcer is a wound or breaking of the skin. Among diabetics, sometimes an ulcer occurs on the foot.
If the ulcer gets infected, it could lead to a serious condition, such as gangrene, when the tissue around the ulcer dies. It could even require amputation in extreme cases.
Diabetes related complications, such as poor blood circulation and high blood-sugar levels, cause foot ulcers. Diabetic often have a slower healing rate, that’s why it’s very important to treat the foot ulcer before it turns serious.
Medications, good hygiene and suitable footwear are some ways to prevent or treat foot ulcers.

“Skin tissue samples of patients from both Malta and Saudi Arabia populations are integrated in this experiment here in the ICE Cubes facility in the European Columbus module [on the International Space Station (ISS)].”

Skin tissue samples of patients from Malta and Saudi Arabia are used in the space research project ‘Maleth-3’ that aims to advance medicine for treating type 2 diabetes Image Credit: Screengrab/Twitter

Europe’s commercial research facility on the ISS, called ICE Cubes or International Commercial Experiment Cubes service, offers “plug-and-play” installation for cube-sized experiments in microgravity.

In the video, Al Neyadi can be seen installing Maleth experiment cubes in the ICE Cubes Facility.

The Maleth experiment is led by biomedical scientists at the University of Malta, in collaboration with scientists from King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Saudi Arabia, Weill Cornell Medicine in the USA, and the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in the UAE. Al Neyadi said all of these entities will benefit from the resulting data and share it with the world.

“This experiment is just the beginning of what we can achieve together through international collaboration. And as a UAE astronaut, I’m happy to contribute and I’m confident that the results of this project will inspire future generations to pursue their dreams and make a positive impact on the world,” he added.

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More about Maleth

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), Project Maleth is led by Professor Joseph Borg, a molecular geneticist and biomedical laboratory scientist from the University of Malta.

Two experiments have already been conducted on the ISS and enabled by the ICE Cubes service, the commercial service provider in partnership with ESA.

In 2021, Project Maleth, the first ever Maltese space mission, sent skin samples from patients with diabetic foot ulcers (DFUs) to be cultured on the ISS.

In 2022, Maleth II flew to the same space laboratory to follow up on the first research results and conduct additional studies on yeast cells to observe how they would react to the space environment.

“This time, the Maleth III will consist of another follow up research on the diabetic foot ulcers (DFUs) experiment. This time the samples [human skin tissue and microbiome] went from three diabetic patients from the Saudi hospital King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre and three normal controls from Malta,” said ESA.

Maleth III will also sequence the full genomes of human DNA and microbes in partnership with Weill Cornell Medicine.

The samples were launched to the ISS with SpaceX CRS-27 cargo ship in March.