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One Thousand Tiny Worms Blast Into Space On Space Shuttle Discovery

PHILADELPHIA (October 29, 1998) -- One thousand tiny worms from Dr. Eric Moss' lab at Fox Chase Cancer Center are orbiting the Earth on Discovery. The worms are part of a space science project being conducted by eight students at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. The ITA/Northeast High School Student Experiment blasted into space this afternoon.

Northeast High School was invited by Instrumentation Technology Associates, Inc. (ITA), an Exton, PA company, to be one of 15 schools in the nation to include their experiments on the company's CIBX-1 (Commercial ITA Biomedical Experiments) payload flying on the "John Glenn Mission" aboard the shuttle Discovery. School officials then linked-up with Fox Chase researchers to organize the science project. Eight students from Northeast High School grades 9 through 12 will take part in the study.

For the project, the students, their teacher Dr. Richard Black and Moss decided to examine the ging process in space using tiny worms called Caenorhabditis elegans, or C. elegans (See- ella' ganz) as they are known in the scientific community. In the study, the students hope to discover if space travel alters the life span of these worms. On Earth, the worms live about 18 days. While a thousand of the worms orbit the Earth, a control group of worms will be under the watchful eyes of the Northeast High students.

"A science experiment like this can have a profound impact on students," said Robert C. Young, President of Fox Chase Cancer Center. "Most scientists and physicians will tell you that a teacher, a science project, or a school event initially sparked their interest in science. Sending worms into space could be that life-shaping event for these students."

Dr. Moss shared Young's enthusiasm. "When the students at Northeast High School approached us at Fox Chase about doing an experiment with worms in space, we were thrilled. The students are bright and ask tough questions. We hope the opportunity will inspire them to follow careers in science. They may wind up joining us here at the Institute for Cancer Research, or follow John Glenn into space."

C. elegans are not new to the science world. Scientists have been studying them since the early 1960s. C. elegans is the only animal for which the entire cell lineage is known from fertilized egg to adult. It is also the only animal for which the entire wiring of its nervous system is known. This year, it will be the first animal to have its entire genome sequenced. The life processes of these worms are similar to those of humans.

"You could say these worms have the right stuff," joked Dr. Moss. "They are the most thoroughly understood animals under the sun. We will soon learn how they cope with a trip that will last one third of their normal lifetime."

The Northeast High School students, Dr. Black, Dr. Moss and John Cassanto, President and CEO of ITA watched the shuttle launch from the NASA Causeway this afternoon. The Discovery mission lasts 8 days, 21 hours and 50 minutes.


Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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