Space Stations

Cancer Research Aboard The International Space Station

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
April 27, 2023
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Cancer Research Aboard The International Space Station
The Frederick National Lab team carefully opening samples returned from the ISS MEDIA CREDIT: Image courtesy of Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research

In their quest to discover a cure for cancer, a team of researchers at Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research turned to the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory to do something they couldn’t do on Earth—remove gravity.

For more than 20 years, scientists have used protein crystallization to try to get the detailed structure of a protein linked to several of the deadliest cancers, but all attempts have been unsuccessful. That’s because gravity-driven forces can make it difficult to grow high-quality crystals on Earth. However, in microgravity, where these forces are removed, crystals often grow larger and more well-ordered than crystals grown in ground-based labs. This makes the ISS an ideal environment for protein crystallization.

The newest issue of Upward, the official magazine of the ISS National Lab, highlights results from this exciting research. Upward is dedicated to communicating results of ISS experiments that demonstrate the value of space-based research and development. Read the article “Space Crystals and the Search for a Cancer Cure” to see how scientists are using microgravity to improve protein crystallization that could help patients on Earth.

Media Contact:
Patrick O’Neill
[email protected]

About the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory: The International Space Station (ISS) is a one-of-a-kind laboratory that enables research and technology development not possible on Earth. As a public service enterprise, the ISS National Lab allows researchers to leverage this multiuser facility to improve life on Earth, mature space-based business models, advance science literacy in the future workforce, and expand a sustainable and scalable market in low Earth orbit. Through this orbiting national laboratory, research resources on the ISS are available to support non-NASA science, technology and education initiatives from U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, Inc. (CASIS) manages the ISS National Lab, under Cooperative Agreement with NASA, facilitating access to its permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. To learn more about the ISS National Lab, visit

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.