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3-2-1...Liftoff! Lab Mice Head For Space On A Monthlong Science Mission

Robert F. Bukaty

A group of genetically engineered super-strong mice from Connecticut are headed to space. Their mission? Study a new therapy to prevent muscle loss.

Se-Jin Lee, a University of Connecticut researcher, says it all started twenty years ago.

“We discovered a gene that we call myostatin. The gene encodes a protein that signals to muscle cells and regulates their growth.”

So he and his team at UConn, along with partners at The Jackson Laboratory and Connecticut Children's Medical Center, genetically engineered mice without myostatin.

“And in those mice the muscles grew to twice the normal size.”

Scientists want to find out if they could use gene therapy to increase muscle mass. This would be great for people who suffer from conditions like muscular dystrophy.

The mice will spend about a month on the International Space Station.

“And the question there is, how effective will this be in space? Our hope is that it will at least somewhat mitigate the muscle loss and bone loss that occurs in space.”

Lee’s wife, Emily Germain-Lee, is a fellow researcher on the project. She says these mice could be little heroes for people with both muscle loss and bone loss.

“I see a lot of children who have really severe bone disease. It gives me incredible hope that maybe we can tackle both at the same time, and allow these patients to resume just the activities of normal daily living.”

Forty mice are set to head to space on December 4 aboard the SpaceX 19 rocket.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.