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NASA: Glenn tests in space providing medical benefits

John Glenn
John Glenn  

March 16, 2000
Web posted at: 9:25 AM EST (1425 GMT)

MARSHALL SPACE FLIGHT CENTER, Alabama (CNN) -- Experiments conducted during the 1998 shuttle flight that returned elder astronaut John Glenn to space have yielded some specific benefits on Earth, such as advances in fighting tumors and diabetes, NASA said.

The experiments contributed to a variety of fields, including medicine, agriculture and manufacturing, said space agency researchers, who this month released final results from microgravity experiments on the flight. Some critics considered the return of Glenn, then 77, to space a NASA publicity stunt.


The seven-member crew of Discovery conducted 88 scientific experiments, during the autumn 1998 flight, more than any previous shuttle mission. Many were tests on plants, proteins and tumor cells.

Glenn, who became the oldest person in space, took part in numerous tests relating to the aging process.

Scientists with the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, spent a year studying data from the Discovery mission. Their findings include:

Tumor treatment. A new tumor-fighting miniature balloon was tested in space. The microcapsule, filled with anti-tumor drugs, can be injected in arteries that lead directly to the tumor.

The technique could allow cancer patients to avoid chemotherapy side effects by ingesting drugs only in the area of diseased cells, not their whole bodies.

Researchers on Earth are now using the shuttle test results to improve the manufacturing process.

Lindsey, Brown, & Glenn
Glenn, right, participates in a televised mission update with pilot Steven Lindsey, left, and commander Curtis Brown while in orbit aboard Discovery in October 1998  

Hemoglobin research. A biopharmaceutical company is assessing results from another experiment that tested advanced cell separation methods.

The techniques could lead to hemoglobin products that replace human blood in transfusions.

Many of the samples separated in microgravity produced the most encouraging results to date, according to the Marshall center.

Diabetes treatment. High-quality protein crystals were produced on the flight. Using the crystal data, scientists can model the structure of one type of insulin more accurately.

Scientists obtained the best data ever collected regarding certain human insulin substances, Marshall scientists said.

Pharmaceutical companies might be able to use the structural data to improve insulin treatments that control diabetes.

Glenn the guinea pig

Other mission experiments could help pharmaceutical companies researching how to treat AIDS and Chagas' disease, a deadly parasitic condition that primarily affects cardiac muscle. Commercial companies funded and developed some of the experiments under NASA's Space Product Development Program.

Glenn served as a guinea pig to determine the effects of zero gravity on older people. He slept four nights in a specialized sleep suit, gave 17 blood samples, wore a tiny heart rate monitor for a day, and swallowed a capsule with a micro radio transmitter and temperature sensor.

One of the original seven Mercury astronauts, Glenn became in 1962 the first American to orbit the Earth. He also served in the U.S. Senate for 24 years, representing Ohio until retiring in 1998.

John Glenn: Return to Space

John Glenn talks Mars, launches new book
December 6, 1999
Astronaut-senator John Glenn honored in Ohio
December 20, 1998

Human Space Flight (HSF) - International Space Station
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