In final mission, space shuttle Atlantis carries vaccine research

As the space shuttle era comes to a close, scientists at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute will use Atlantis' final mission for a unique vaccine research opportunity. Dr. Cheryl Nickerson and Dr. Roy Curtiss III hope to find methods for improving a pneumonia vaccine's efficacy from space's microgravity, based on their previous space research.

Nickerson's past research in space proved that salmonella's virulence was increased by the effects of microgravity, and Curtiss has developed a promising Phase I oral pneumonia vaccine. During this mission, Nickerson's and Curtiss' research will harness a salmonella strain with an antigen from Streptococcus pneumoniae as an experimental pneumonia vaccine. And while the astronauts work with the virus in space, researchers on the ground will mirror the efforts.

"Many breakthroughs in life sciences research and translational advancements to the healthcare setting, have been achieved through studying the response of biological systems to extreme environments," Nickerson said in a release. "It is incredibly exciting to me that we have the opportunity to utilize spaceflight as a unique research and development platform for novel applications with potential to help fight a globally devastating disease."

- check out the release