Published: July 8, 2011 By

AstronautCIMB faculty member, Virginia Ferguson, is stowing away a few special subjects on the last flight of the space shuttle program. Space Shuttle Atlantis is slated to launch on July 8 with Ferguson's "astromice," who may lead her toward a new treatment for bone loss.

The study, a collaboration between Amgen and the University of Colorado Boulder, is focused on the loss of bone mass during space flight – particularly long stretches in space aboard the International Space Station. The protein sclerostin is thought to promote bone loss in weightless conditions. During the mission, 30 mice will fly aboard Atlantis: half will have an antibody to sclerostin, and half will not. All 30 will return to Earth to be compared to their ground-based companions.

Ferguson, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is a co-principal investigator on the experiment which she hopes may lead to potential therapeutic treatments for astronauts. The experiment also will provide insight for future research in the prevention and treatment of skeletal fragility caused by stroke, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries and reduced physical activity.

Ferguson is an expert in biomaterials, particularly hard tissues like bone. Her research interests focus on the intersection of biology, paleontology and physics to understand the mechanical behavior of hard and soft tissues. Her experiment is one of five from CU-Boulder on the final mission of the space shuttle program. For more information, visit CU Boulder News.