Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Microgravity Research Competition

Medical Treatments Here on Earth, Developed in Space


The Nanomedicine Research Team Wins Microgravity Research Competition. Historical opportunity to perform research in space and bring back the results to Earth to improve healthcare.

The winning project of the Microgravity Research Competition is focused on the development of the science and technology for controlled, long-term drug release. This research, conducted in space, could yield important cancer treatments here on Earth.

Saturday, April 18, 2009, Art Dula of The Heinlein Prize Trust announced the winner of the Microgravity Research Competition at the awards banquet at Rice University. The competition, sponsored by The Heinlein Prize Trust, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), and the Rice Alliance gives researchers an exciting opportunity to advance their projects in the ultimate laboratory-in Low Earth Orbit in the microgravity environment of  SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. The winning team also receives a $25,000 cash award, and a trip to Cape Canaveral to see their project launched into space.

The Nanomedicine research team was the winner of the Microgravity Research Competition, for a proposal on "Decoupling Diffusive Transport Phenomena in Microgravity." In their proposal, the team said, "Microgravity yields a valuable gift for scientists to study larger particles transported over microchannels... A particular advantage of having experimental data of free diffusion not affected by gravity at the microscale is the possibility to correlate these data with similar results obtained on Earth at the nanoscale."

The winning team's experiment will have a direct impact on the development of drug delivery systems for medical applications. Lead by Dr. Mauro Ferrari, the team is focused on the development of implantable devices for controlled, long-term drug release, important treatment means for illnesses, including cancer.

Said Dr. Ferrari, "I am delighted with this historical opportunity to perform research in space and bring back the results to Earth to improve healthcare. This experiment will allow us to refine our technologies for the release of a drug at the right time and to the right place in the body, and to bring to the clinic the vision of personalized medicine."

"Their work has scientific implications that go far beyond just academic science," Art Dula, of the Heinlein Prize Trust, said of the winning project.

Said Dr. Ferrari of winning the award, "...it was a truly unbelievable set of events and we are so very much looking forward to honoring the legacy of the great Robert Heinlein and his wife Virginia."

Robert A. Heinlein, renowned American author of speculative fiction, and his wife Virginia Heinlein, founder of the Heinlein Prize Trust, believed in and advocated a human future in space where, in the words of Mr. Heinlein, there is, "unlimited room, unlimited energy, unlimited wealth," to benefit every person on Earth. The Heinlein Prize Trust continues his legacy by encouraging private space activities such as this Microgravity Research Competition.

"Hopefully other researchers will be encouraged to pursue microgravity research for projects that benefit humankind," added Dr. Ferrari.

Mauro Ferrari, PhD., CEO of The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, is a member of the Department of Nanomedicine at TMHRI and president of the Alliance for NanoHealth, Houston, with a background in Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering and Medicine. His background in the field has included work with Nanotechnology and Nanomedicine in the fight against cancer.

Alessandro Grattoni, Ph.D. is an Assistant Member and Co-Director of the Department of Nanomedicine at TMHRI. With a background in Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, Grattoni also is conducting research into implantable devices for sustained controlled drug release.

  • Arturas Ziemys, Ph.D. is an Assistant Member of the Department of Nanomedicine at TMHRI, with a background in Molecular Biophysics.
  • Daniel Fine, Ph.D. is a Research Associate of the Department of Nanomedicine at TMHRI, with a background in Electrical Engineering, and Nanotechnology.
  • Enrica De Rosa, Ph.D., is a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Department of Nanomedicine at TMHRI, with a background in Chemical, Material and Production Engineering.
  • XueWu Liu, Ph.D. is an Associate Member of the Department of Nanomedicine at TMHRI.

About The Heinlein Prize Trust
The Heinlein Prize Trust is a non-profit foundation which promotes the commercial uses of space. It provides financial prizes to commercial space entrepreneurs, enhances public awareness of commercial space, and uses space to inspire students about opportunities of the next frontier. For more information, see www.heinleinprize.com.

About SpaceX
SpaceX is developing a family of launch vehicles and spacecraft intended to increase the reliability and reduce the cost of both manned and unmanned space transportation, ultimately by a factor of ten. With the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 vehicles, SpaceX offers highly reliable/cost-efficient launch capabilities for spacecraft insertion into any orbital altitude and inclination. Starting in 2010, SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft will provide Earth-to-LEO transport of pressurized and unpressurized cargo, including resupply to the International Space Station (ISS).

Founded in 2002, the SpaceX team now numbers over 650, with corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

For more information, please visit www.spacex.com.

About Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship
The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship (Rice Alliance) is Rice University's flagship initiative devoted to the support of technology commercialization, entrepreneurship, and the launch of technology companies.

Since inception, the Rice Alliance has assisted in the launch of more than 230 technology start-ups which have raised more than $500 million in early-stage capital.

The Rice Alliance is host to the Rice Business Plan Competition, the largest and richest business plan competition in world. Thirty-six graduate schools compete for over $700,000 in prizes each year.

For more information about the competition, the entrants, and microgravity research visit www.labflight.com.