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NSF Grant Awarded to Allen Liu Launches New Osteoporosis Study to Outer Space

Allen Liu

With a new $400,000 grant, Allen Liu, associate Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering will be launching a new study on osteoporosis into space. Through a collaborative grant sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), Liu was named one of five winners for their program which is titled, “NSF/CASIS Collaboration on Tissue Engineering and Mechanobiology on the International Space Station (ISS) to Benefit Life on Earth.”

The focus of the program is to fund research projects in the fields of tissue engineering and mechanobiology that can utilize the International Space Station (ISS). Liu’s project will be looking at cellular mechanotransduction by osteoblasts in microgravity. In his abstract, Liu discusses how weight-bearing exercises are beneficial to bones and make for a lower risk of osteoporosis. It is known that as we age bones become more weak and brittle making fractures more likely with falls or mild stresses. 

In space, the zero-gravity takes effect on the body and causes a number of changes in the body from the heart to the bones. It also puts forth an experimental environment to test the biological hypothesis in a weightless condition. For the study, they will be looking at the effect of microgravity on cell stiffness and how applied loading regulates responses at the cellular level and its implication in osteoporosis.

Liu explained, “Research carried out in this proposed work has the potential to translate to insightful understanding on mechanosensing of osteoblasts, thereby helping a large population of people who suffer or may suffer from osteoporosis. The work is also relevant to other age-related diseases as there is data pointing to a correlation of cell mechanics with aging cells.”

Liu has partnered with Space Tango with a planned space launch to the ISS in spring 2021.

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