Dental experiment conducted in space returns safely to earth
Packs of oral health devices that were rocketed into space as part of an experiment into oral biofilms have been safely sent back to earth.
Initiated by Colgate-Palmolive and the ISS US National Laboratory, the investigation travelled from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida to the laboratory aboard Spacex CRS-22 last month.
The team onboard used microfluidic devices to stimulate bacterial growth on a surface similar to a tooth. They were exposed for around four weeks – and have now been returned safely to earth.
The design of the spacecraft allowed for the experiment to be unloaded quickly. Additionally the Florida location made it possible to transfer the time-sensitive research to scientists at a quicker pace.
Impact of gravity
Scientists, therefore, can assess the devices before gravity has a chance to fully take effect. They will follow up with a more in-depth analysis.
The oral biofilm study looks at how gravity impacts the composition, structure and activity of oral bacteria among common oral care agents.
Findings are hoped to support treatments into fighting diseases such as gingivitis, cavities and periodontitis. It could also provide insight into how microgravity affects microbiomes on other bodily surfaces.
Additionally, maintaining good oral health is crucial on future long-duration space missions to the Moon or Mars.
‘We are looking at the molecular mechanism of disease and how our oral care products are able to intervene,’ says co-investigator Harsh Trivedi.
‘Any molecular work is time sensitive. You are looking at metabolites and nucleic acids and they degrade over time. So, the quicker we get them, the less degradation occurs.’
It is hoped the results of the study could benefit around 50% of the world’s population.
Luciana Rinaudi Marron is a co-investigator at Colgate-Palmolive for the Oral Biofilms in Space study.
‘Running analyses on all the samples at the same time eliminates a lot of variability of having different people prepping and analysing samples at different places,’ she says.
‘It really helps eliminate sources of error.’
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