In August 2021, the journey of the Maleth Project began with the launch of the first-ever Maltese space experiment on board the International Space Station, using our ICE Cubes Service. Led by Joseph Borg, Scientist and Professor at the University of Malta, the project aimed to expand knowledge about the human skin microbiome by analyzing diabetic foot ulcer samples, and conduct research under both terrestrial and space-based conditions, with the goal of advancing precision medicine in the treatment of Type 2 Diabetes.
The return of Maleth III marks the conclusion of the Maleth Project, Malta’s first space bioscience program, also signaling the beginning of a new phase in which the data collected will be used to drive advancements in precision medicine and contribute to our understanding of diseases on Earth and in space.
The adventure began when Professor Borg, inspired by recent publications on the biology of spaceflight, made contact with the ICE Cubes Service to pursue his idea. It took around 9 months from first exchange to launching the first batch of samples to the ISS. The Maleth payload was based on the ScienceCube, one of our in-house developments designed for fast-track integration, reuse and quick turnaround.
Following the success of Maleth I, the project continued with Maleth II in 2022. This experiment built upon the findings of the first mission and aimed to conduct additional studies on the skin microbiome in microgravity. Maleth I and II contained a combination of skin samples that through the harsh environment of space was able to provide a unique opportunity of study.
Maleth III involved a collaboration among several research partners, including Space Applications Services NV/SA, MetaVisionaries and Spaceomix, with the contribution of UAE Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi. What is truly special about Project Maleth III is that it has become an international collaboration. Maleth III not only contained samples from Malta, but it also hosted samples from Saudi Arabia, specifically, the Saudi hospital King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre who collected samples from three Type 2 diabetes patients. Along with these samples, Weill Cornell Medicine, based in New York, USA, also contributed with genomes of human DNA and microbes.
The Maleth program focused on the study of human skin tissue microbiome changes in patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) who suffer from Diabetic Foot Ulcers (DFU). In this study, researchers examined six different types of samples. The samples compared included diabetic foot ulcers (DFUs) that were sent to the International Space Station (ISS), DFUs kept on Earth, and skin swabs from the contralateral foot of diabetic patients (a healthy foot without DFUs).
The researchers were able to identify unique microbial signatures associated with each tissue type. This was possible through the analyzing of the most abundant microorganism in each sample group. The researchers found that the microbiome of the ISS tissue samples was heterogeneous and had similarities with both healthy skin and DFUs. However, unlike other sample types, the ISS tissue samples had unusually high abundance of Proteus mirabilis and Morganella morganii bacteria present, which can become fatal if left untreated in high concentrations at the site of injury.
This study served to identify all the bacterial species present in DFUs, and how they adapt or vary when exposed to different environments, including harsh ones such as space.
You can access the Cell/Heliyon publication here.
Read more about the mission on the BSGN portal here.
Check out the post on the mission & follow us on social media.