the millions of Americans who grieved the loss of the space
shuttle Columbia February 1 was Emory scientist Leland Chung,
who watched in shock as the shuttle broke apart in the sky over
Chung (above), professor of urology and a researcher at the
Winship Cancer Institute, mourned the tragedy all the more deeply
because the shuttle carried an experiment of his own design:
he was the first scientist to grow artificial prostate cancer
cells in space.
of eighty-four scientific experiments aboard Columbia, Chungs
project involved a prostate cancer organoid, or
artificial tumor, grown at zero gravity in a NASA-engineered
bioreactor. The gravity-free environment made it possible to
nearly recreate the cancers natural conditions in the
body, a task much more difficult in the laboratory, where contact
with glass or plastic can alter growth. Chung planned to study
the organoid to better understand how prostate cancer cells
grow and communicate with other cells in the body.
mass on Columbia had grown to about the size of a golf ball,
many times larger than similar tumors grown in the Earths
gravity. But Chungs hopes of completing the experiment
were shattered when the shuttle crashed. Much more devastating,
he had communicated many times with the Columbia astronauts
via e-mail, and felt he knew them. They wanted to understand
the study and were very excited about it, Chung says.
the cell mass, Chung hopes to salvage about half his project,
and will dedicate any findings to the Columbia astronauts.
the strewn parts of the shuttle and its scientific cargo were
recovered, Chung released a heartfelt statement to the Emory
community and his colleagues at NASA.
prayers go to the families of our courageous and dedicated astronauts,
he wrote. Our goal is to pick up everything left unfinished
by the astronauts and to finish the experiments and future studies
to the best of our ability. We want to dedicate every paper
. . . to our partner astronauts. May God bless America, and
our dreams of discovery and innovation will always have a place
with our NASA family.P.P.P.