AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 24, 2011 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- NASA astronauts onboard Space Shuttle Discovery's final mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will carry out the eleventh scientific payload for Astrogenetix, a commercial biotech company based out of Austin, Texas. The research on STS-133 will focus on changes that occur to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in microgravity, which can be targeted to create new vaccines and therapeutics. "The laboratory conditions present on the International Space Station do not exist anywhere else," said John Porter, Chief Executive Officer of Astrogenetix. "The use of this unique environment for research has created a breakthrough new development platform that is leading to amazing discoveries." Current work is focused on the use of microgravity to identify targets for the development of therapeutics for MRSA. In the past decade, infection and mortality due to this organism has increased drastically, exceeding the death rate for HIV. In this country alone, MRSA is responsible for 100,000 cases of severe infections and 19,000 deaths annually. Previous spaceflight results have shown successful identification of genes in MRSA associated with virulence of this organism in our unique model system. The research on STS-133 seeks to validate previously identified gene targets for MRSA virulence, as well as investigating an additional gene target for this devastating microbe. "By understanding the specific biological changes that cause the development of more virulent bacteria we can develop better therapeutics and vaccines," said Dr. Jeanne Becker, Chief Science Officer for Astrogenetix. "We can now begin to target these changes specifically caused by microgravity and better control diseases." In 2005 ISS was designated a National Lab opening up the facility to private sector researchers. Astrogenetix was created as a subsidiary of Astrotech Corporation (Nasdaq:ASTC) in 2008 to utilize the unique environment of microgravity found on the ISS to develop and commercialize biotechnology products. Over the last two years, Astrogenetix has carried out ten research missions utilizing microgravity, leading to the identification of a gene target for Salmonella enterica and its application towards development of an attenuated vaccine is under investigation. BioServe Space Technologies is providing the hardware, integration and operations support for the research, which is being performed in conjunction with researchers at the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina.