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Inside Mayo: Stem Cells from Outer Space

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (KTTC) – Outer space, about 100 miles above from Mayo Clinic, is a place where the Mayo brothers might not have imagined medical research to go.

Strokes takes the life of about 140,000 people each year, and is also the leading cause of serious, long-term disability.

But, a Mayo Clinic doctor in Florida has a unique partnership with NASA and might be able to find answers to help.

Dr. Abba Zubair believes that his work in outer space could someday give millions of stroke survivors a new lease on life. It is something that has fascinated Dr. Abba Zubair since his boyhood in Nigeria, Africa.

After losing his mother to stroke back in 1997, he turned to research and began search for solutions.

Dr. Zubair specializes in regenerative medicine at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville

His quest? To see how stem cells taken from the body’s bone marrow case be mass-produced in micro-gravity and used to treat strokes.

“If you have a stroke now, the only treatment available is remedy and time.”

Stem cells are known to reduce inflammation. Infusing them intravenously and in the brain ventricles, the cells promote the regeneration of neurons and blood vessels.

“That’s the good news,” said Dr. Zubair.

The bad news? It takes hundreds of millions of stem cells to treat a human being, and it takes many weeks to grow those cells on earth, which could be too late for treatment of some conditions.

In micro-gravity, a condition you’d find in outer space, stem cells may grow more quickly.

Researchers hope to discover proteins or compounds which can someday be mimicked on Earth to encourage stem cell growth without having to go to micro-gravity.

Dr. Zubair at the Kennedy Space Center

“And to get ready for that is really to understand the impact of absence of gravity, on important thing.”

After loading stem cells into special black boxes, Dr. Zubair and his team headed to Kennedy Space Center and NASA to watch the cells launch into the International Space Station.

“If we can grow stem cells faster in space, that would help us to grow more cells and treat a larger patient population.”

For Dr. Zubair, it comes full circle. As a body, he had a dream of reaching for the stars. Now, in a way, he has, and his work might one day offer promise for millions of stroke survivors.

Tom Overlie

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