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Oakwood College Experiment Lost in Shuttle Columbia Disaster

Results of an experiment conducted by students at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, were lost in the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia upon reentering the earth's atmosphere Feb. 1.

Results of an experiment conducted by students at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, were lost in the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia upon reentering the earth’s atmosphere Feb. 1.

Two Oakwood College freshmen, Courtney Brown and Grace Mbyirukira, and biochemistry professor Dr. Ephraim Gwebu, worked with area firm Biospace Group, Inc., to determine whether a nerve growth factor, or NGF, absent after spinal cord injuries and in Alzheimer’s patients can be enhanced in low-gravity conditions.

The Oakwood team hopes to get the experiment aboard a subsequent flight; however, the space shuttle program has been halted until a NASA investigation determines the cause of the disaster.

Dr. Gwebu says, “Of course we lost the experiment, but we lost the premier scientists. Experiments can be replaced, reproduced any time, but we cannot get our wonderful scientists that did our experiment up there back.”

Normally, the body produces NGF that promotes nerve cell development. NGF transforms an immortalized cell line called PC12 cells to neuron cells. Experimenters wanted to know whether this transformation can be enhanced in low-gravity conditions.

Oakwood College, a Seventh-day Adventist institution, was established in 1896 and is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in Decatur, Georgia.