Malta’s first research experiment in space has landed back on earth and is expected back in the hands of scientists in the weeks to come.

Led by associate professor of biomedical science at the University of Malta Joseph Borg, the Project Maleth team sent samples of micro-organisms that cause diabetic ulcers to the International Space Station (ISS), in a bid to analyse how the tissue will react under extreme conditions.

They hope that the information they glean from the results will be able to help patients by developing new ways to treat diabetes and its symptoms.

Launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on August 28, Project Maleth spent just over a month aboard the International Space Station.

Borg explained that exposing the samples to extreme stress levels, such as a microgravity environment and higher levels of solar radiation will cause cells to behave in a different way to adapt to these conditions.

Borg and his team hope these changes in the bacteria, which can often develop resistance to medication, will allow them to exploit new ways of treatment.

Space X’s Dragon spacecraft, which was carrying Project Maleth, undocked from the International Space Station on Thursday just after 9am EDT (3pm local time) and successfully splashed down off the coast of Florida 14 hours later.

After orbiting away from the ISS, the spacecraft re-entered earth’s atmosphere and deployed six parachutes before landing in the Atlantic Ocean.

The experiments on board have been retrieved safely and are currently on their way to the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island in Florida.

Pleased and excited at the prospect of a successful landing, Borg told Times of Malta that the experiment is expected back on Maltese soil in the coming weeks.

“I’m feeling good, but I’ll be better when I get the experiment in my hands,” he said.

Studies on the tissue samples will now resume at the University of Malta, with the collaboration of professors Afshin Beheshti, from the NASA Ames Research Centre, and Christopher Mason, from the Weill Cornell Medicine in the US.

“The team will jointly work on the genetics and systems biology of the samples and determine the effects of spaceflight on both human and bacterial cells,” Borg continued.

“The identification of new or novel signatures from this work may pave the way for better therapeutics aimed at treating the diabetic foot ulcers by targeting the micro-organisms more precisely.

“The knowledge gained from these experiments may also be carried forward to more research projects currently being planned for the next missions on board the ISS.”

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