A novel experiment to study the Huntingtin protein recently arrived at its orbital laboratory on the International Space Station along with 5,000 lbs of cargo delivered on board SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

When mutated, the huntingtin protein causes Huntington’s disease, a hereditary illness that impairs muscle control and cognition. There is no cure for the disorder, which is typically diagnosed in mid-adult life.

To understand how proteins function, scientists often use a technique called X-ray crystallography, which allows them to peer at the molecular structure of the protein when it’s in a solid crystal form. So far, researchers haven ot had much luck creating crystals of the huntingtin protein on the ground, but crystals tend to grow more effectively in microgravity.

"On the ISS, we really hope to be able to finally get crystals that are big enough and perfect enough that we can solve the structure of the huntingtin protein," said Gwen Owens, designer of the study.

If the experiment works, the huntingtin crystals will be brought back to Earth this Autumn to be studied in an X-ray crystallography lab.

SpaceX, a private company based in Hawthorne, Calif., launched the Dragon resupply ship toward the International Space Station on Friday (April 18) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida using its own Falcon 9 rocket. The mission was SpaceX’s third of 12 cargo delivery missions under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA.

Source: Huffington Post