Young Egyptian scientists win competition to test Hep C virus on space station
Two Egyptian researchers at Technische
Universität München (TUM) have won
the “International Space Station (ISS)
Research Competition” in the US with
their project Egypt Against Hepatitis C
Virus (EGAHEP). As their prize, the two
scientists will see the ISS crew perform
experiments for the project on the space
station free of charge. The project involves
crystallizing two proteins of the hepatitis
C virus (HCV) under microgravity
conditions. The shuttle bringing these
proteins to the ISS was scheduled to lift
off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on
“The hepatitis C virus is a major problem
in our home nation of Egypt,” explained Akram Amin Abdellatif, graduate
student of “Earth-oriented space science
and technology” at TUM and employee
at the German Aerospace Center. “We
developed this project to learn more
about the virus and find its weaknesses.”
He established the project together with
Hanaa Gaber, a doctoral student at the
Institute of Virology.
Egypt has one of the highest prevalence
rates of hepatitis C infections in the world.
According to an estimate by the Egyptian
ministry of health in 2008, around 15%
of 15 to 59-year-olds are infected. The
virus attacks the liver and can cause huge
damage to the body including cancer and
The ISS Research Competition is
organized by Space Florida – the state´s
aerospace development organization
of Florida – in conjunction with the
company NanoRacks. The TUM team
submitted their project to the judges in
2012. Just eight projects were chosen to be
sent to the ISS from over 600 submissions.
EGAHEP was the only project to be
chosen from outside the US and will be
the first experiment involving Egyptian
scientists to be conducted on the ISS.
The researchers want to send hepatitis
C virus proteins to the ISS so that protein crystals can be generated in space.
with other proteins have shown that
crystals produced in space were superior to
those grown on earth, where gravity can
negatively influence the crystallization.
Scientists can then use special x-ray
techniques to decode the molecular
structure of the proteins from these
crystals. “Identifying the precise structures
could help us to find new points of attack
for medications in the future,” explained
Prof. Ulrike Protzer, head of the Institute
on earth and in space
For their project, the researchers selected two
proteins from genotype 4 a specific genotype
of HCV that is very predominant in Egypt.
The first protein, NS5B, ensures that the
genetic material of the virus multiplies in
the affected cell during HCV infection.
The second protein, NS3, functions as
a molecular scissors, cutting a chain of
proteins into individual functioning virus proteins during viral replication.
Gaber isolated and purified both
proteins in the lab. They were packed in
special transport cases called NanoLabs
for their journey to the ISS. The finished
crystals were due to return to earth late
October. At the same time, both proteins
will be crystallized in a laboratory on earth
to provide results for comparison.
“We hope that the project will be successful
and that the crystals produced in space will
represent a giant leap forward,” said Gaber, who travelled to Florida for the
of upload: 14th Nov 2014