How KFSH&RC is supporting Saudi Arabia's space ambitions
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Interview: How KFSH&RC is supporting Saudi Arabia’s space ambitions

Interview: How KFSH&RC is supporting Saudi Arabia’s space ambitions

King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre’s Dr Wijdan Alahmadi shares the centre’s work in advancing astronaut safety and biomedical discovery

Neesha Salian
Dr Wijdan of King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research on Space medicine

Tell us about King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre’s (KFSH&RC) long-term vision for space exploration, particularly in the context of ensuring astronaut safety during extended missions.

King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre (KFSH&RC) is a leading tertiary and quaternary healthcare provider in the Middle East.

Our mission is to provide the highest level of specialised healthcare in an integrated educational and research setting.

We aim to contribute to space-related scientific research. Our key goals and objectives include developing advanced technologies and protocols to ensure the safety and wellbeing of astronauts during extended missions.

The centre is committed to advancing human health through innovative research, including research in the unique environment of space. By conducting space research, we can gain valuable insights into the effects of microgravity on the human body and develop new medical treatments and technologies.

This aligns with our commitment to pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge and improving healthcare for people both on Earth and in space.

We aim to study disease processes in space to gain new insights into different disease conditions, uncover potential biomarkers, and identify possible therapies to lead to a better overall understanding of space health and have positive implications for terrestrial healthcare

What are the key goals and objectives in this regard?

The human body has evolved for life on Earth, so adapting to space represents a major physiological and psychological challenge. More research is still needed to fully understand these effects. The microgravity environment provides opportunities for biotechnology advancements that may be applied both in space and on Earth. Additionally, understanding the long-term effects of space travel on the human body is crucial for future missions to other planets.

By studying these effects, scientists can develop strategies to mitigate any negative impacts and ensure the health and well-being of astronauts during extended space missions.  Through research, the centre will harness the potential of space exploration to drive innovation in medicine and ultimately improve the health and wellbeing of all humankind.

As we plan to explore further beyond the Earth and eventually fly back to the Moon and even out to Mars, we need to find ways to minimise these impacts and protect our astronauts’ health.

The results of these projects are used not only to help our astronauts but also to improve our understanding of how our bodies behave on Earth.

So, in the end, this benefits all of us: me, you, your family and your friends

Provide us with examples of the specific technologies or innovations that are being developed. Will you be showcasing them at the upcoming Global Health Exhibition?

As a strategic health partner at the Global Health Exhibition, KFSH&RC is showcasing its pioneering work in space biomedical research to enhance its reputation as a global leader in healthcare innovation.

KFSH&RC’s exhibition pavilion will demonstrate some of the groundbreaking space cell science research it has led aboard the International Space Station (ISS). It will reveal many challenges faced in conducting space research, in addition to the benefits of space biomedicine research.

Additionally, it presents the RNA response and stability platform that was used in the cell science research onboard I.S.S.

These platforms have revolutionized the way researchers study the effects of microgravity on human cells and have opened new possibilities for developing treatments for various diseases. Furthermore, KFSH&RC’s exhibition pavilion will showcase the collaboration between scientists, astronauts, and engineers in conducting these experiments, highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of space biomedicine research.

How is KFSH&RC contributing to the design and perfection of life support systems, and what advancements or breakthroughs have been achieved in this field?

KFSH&RC is actively involved in the design and perfection of life support systems through its dedicated research and development efforts. The institution collaborates with leading experts and institutions to push the boundaries of innovation in this field. As a result, significant advancements and breakthroughs have been achieved, including the development of more efficient and precise life support technologies that have greatly improved patient outcomes. Additionally, KFSH&RC’s contributions have led to the discovery of novel approaches and techniques that are revolutionising the field.

By highlighting these specific innovations in space-based biotechnology, and advanced immune monitoring, KFSH&RC aims to showcase its expertise in leveraging the space environment to enable healthcare breakthroughs.

Biomedical research plays a significant role in understanding the effects of long-term space travel on human health. Can you elaborate on the ongoing research initiatives at KFSH&RC and their potential impact on improving astronaut wellbeing in space?

KFSH&RC has many innovative initiatives in the fields of medicine, research and biotechnology. We are currently working on understanding the inflammatory process in microgravity by studying RNA response and stability pre- and post-inflammation induction and investigating the effect of a specific inhibitor of an inflammatory pathway and the effects on gene expression.

Using the RNA-sequence approach in analysing the 192 samples from space versus Earth, we will be able to monitor the changes in thousands of mRNAs on a global genome-wide scale. This will create numerous data points and a resource for further understanding of the mimicked disease processes. Results could contribute to a better understanding of both space and earth health and uncover biomarkers or potential therapies for inflammatory diseases.

This will help in understanding the biological process of the disease in microgravity and, therefore, developing new therapeutics to counter diseases like cardiac diseases, cancer, and inflammation. “These findings could have implications for developing countermeasures to mitigate the negative effects of extended space missions on astronauts’ well-being.

In a rapidly evolving technological landscape, how does KFSH&RC plan to adapt and incorporate discoveries to continuously improve astronaut safety in space? Are there any specific strategies or initiatives in place for this purpose?

We recognise that space exploration occurs in a rapidly evolving technological landscape. A core part of our approach involves leading cutting-edge biomedical research. By conducting experiments in space that cannot be replicated on Earth, we can gain invaluable insights into how human cells and tissues behave in reduced gravity, potentially unlocking new pathways for disease treatment and biomedical innovation.

Moreover, we are committed to translating our space research discoveries into innovative healthcare solutions on Earth. By studying the effects of microgravity on human cells and tissues, we can uncover unique mechanisms that may lead to groundbreaking advancements in disease treatment and biomedical innovation.

Furthermore, our focus on RNA response and stability holds immense potential for revolutionising various aspects of healthcare, including personalised medicine, targeted therapy, drug screening using artificial intelligence, and repurposing existing drugs for new therapeutic purposes.

With our expertise in biomedicine, KFSH&RC is dedicated to continuous knowledge sharing and adaptation to protect astronaut lives. We are confident that our strategies will enable astronauts to explore space safely and sustainably while also accelerating biomedical progress on Earth

What collaborations or partnerships does KFSH&RC have with other space agencies, research institutions, or private companies to advance its vision for space exploration and astronaut safety?

As a newcomer to space research, KFSH&RC is strategic in selecting collaborations that align with our mission of advancing astronaut safety and biomedical discovery.

We began by partnering with the Saudi Space Agency to launch our first experiments aboard the International Space Station, which provided invaluable experience and insights into conducting cutting-edge microgravity research.

We are also planning to collaborate with space technology centers to utilise their expertise in payload development and implementation.

Moving forward, we aim to expand our collaborative network globally. We will also pursue ties with renowned research hospitals and academic institutions performing complementary work to advance astronaut health.

Strategic collaborations allow us to share knowledge, leverage existing capabilities, and participate in shaping the future of space biomedicine.

While we are early in our journey, each partnership contributes expertise and resources that help position the centre at the forefront of this exciting field. We believe cooperating across sectors is key to achieving breakthroughs in astronaut safety and healthcare innovation.

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