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Bristol bone biologists are a force to be reckoned with in hypergravity competition

The Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) premises, Noordwijk, the Netherlands European Space Agency (ESA)

Press release issued: 22 March 2018

A team of student biologists have been selected to take part in the European Space Agency (ESA) Education Office Spin Your Thesis! 2018 programme, which will take place in the Netherlands this September.

The team, called Bristol Bone Biologists, are one of two student teams to have been chosen to conduct their experiments in hypergravity conditions at the Large Diameter Centrifuge (LDC) premises at ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Centre), Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

The Bristol team, consisting of students Elizabeth Lawrence, PhD student in Dynamic Molecular Cell Biology, and Jessye Aggleton, PhD student in Anthropology and Archaeology, will be running their experiment alongside the University of Amsterdam’s Team Avalanche. Both teams were selected from a large international pool of entrants following a competitive application process.

Through the experiment, the Bristol Bone Biologists hope to achieve a deeper understanding around the onset and development of osteoarthritis. By examining the effect of hypergravity conditions on the developing skeleton of zebrafish, the team aim to model how the cells in cartilage, bone and joint tissues experience changes in response to loading using a range of imaging techniques and computer modelling. In doing so, the project aims to see how very early changes to cells lead to longer term changes to the joint that cause osteoarthritis. These findings will help to inform current treatments for the disease.

The team recently completed a gravity-related experiment training week in Belgium, at the European space Security and Education Centre (ESEC). The training has equipped them with the techniques needed to run their experiment successfully, as well as enjoying talks from astronaut Reinhold Ewald and a range of ESA scientists.

The countdown is now on for summer and the team will be focussing on preparations for their experiment. In September, each team will have two and a half days to perform their experiment in hypergravity conditions with support from ESA experts. Bristol Bone Biologists have been assigned a member of the European Low Gravity Research Association (ELGRA) as a mentor who will also be on hand to provide advice and expertise in gravity-related research.

Elizabeth Lawrence, University of Bristol PhD student and Bristol Bone Biologist team member said: “We’re absolutely delighted to be given this fantastic opportunity to conduct our experiment using ESA’s facilities. Without it, we would be unable to undertake much-needed investigation into the effect of altered loading on cells, hard tissue and soft tissue in the joint. We plan to use a zebrafish model in our experiment to help us understand how altered gravity and osteoarthritis associated genes may change joint formation in early development.”

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