Israel recently launched Dido III, a nano-satellite manufactured by SpacePharma and joined by Sheba Medical Center. With this space mission, Sheba made history as one of the first hospitals in the world to launch a medical experiment in space. The satellite reached its destination in space at 4:41 am on Thursday, September 3.
The unique project is regarded as a significant breakthrough in both the fields of medicine and civilian space. It was established as a collaboration between the Israeli Space Agency in the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Italian Space Agency, working in tandem with SpacePharma, an Israeli company that focuses on the implementation of microgravity for research and development.
Sheba will use this space venture to test its theory that microgravity in space reduces antibiotic resistance acquisition. The hope is that it will help solve the problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, which is worsening around the globe.
The satellite houses a miniature laboratory, which will be used for four medical scientific experiments to test drug resistance. Each study is being headed by an Israeli and an Italian researcher, with four special experiments in biology, chemistry, and medicine. The Israeli researchers will come from either Sheba Medical Center, the Technion or the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. SpacePharma estimates that the experiments will be completed within a two-month span.
Avi Blasberger, Director of the Israeli Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology, explained that this is “a miniature satellite developed by SpacePharma, which conducts laboratory experiments in space under microgravity conditions.”
All testing will be done under microgravity conditions in an autonomous manner. The tiny DIDO III laboratory is about the size of a shoe box and weighs 2.3 kg; it will be launched as one of 53 micro- and nano-satellites from 13 different countries, which will cover telecommunications, science, Earth observation, education and technology.
“Such experiments are usually performed by astronauts, hence the importance of launching,” Blasberger said. “Space Pharma is currently the only commercial company, except for NASA, with a space research laboratory.”
Space offers an optimal environment for conducting biological and chemical experiments because bacteria develop rapid resistance to drugs when under the unique conditions there, as explained by the Ministry of Science.
Researchers will be able to control the experiments through different applications and computers. Results from the experiments will be sent to the center in Switzerland before being routed to various institutions.
The success of these tests can be far-reaching, with the potential to reverse the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance, which leads to the death of 700,000 people around the world every year.
Prof. Ohad Gal-Mor, Head of the Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory at Sheba, explains how data indicate a significant clinical overuse and misuse of antibiotics, and even more so in agriculture.
“At Sheba Medical Center, we already have preliminary data suggesting that microgravity reduces antibiotic resistance acquisition from experiments we performed on the ground using a special device that mimics microgravity conditions to some extent,” Gal-Mor said.
“Now we are able to repeat these results under ‘real’ microgravity conditions and see how the conditions in space affect this process,” he added. “Understanding how microgravity and other environmental conditions affect conjugation will go a long way toward helping us develop new treatments and approaches to reduce antibiotic resistance acquisition by bacteria.”
Globally, about 10 million people may die by 2050 due to antibiotic resistance. A 2019 United Nations report stressed the need for an effective solution to antibiotic resistance. Additionally, the reported overuse of antibiotics during the COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to the increasing resistance to antibiotics worldwide – a problem that may prove to be more of a long-lasting threat than the coronavirus itself.