The Charger Blog

Undergraduate Students Earn Grants for Innovative Space Research

Kiarra Richardson ’21 and Gabriel Galeotos ’22 are conducting cutting-edge research that explores medicine and space travel, and their work is being supported by a program funded as part of NASA Education.

February 5, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Kiarra Richardson in lab.
Kiarra Richardson ’21 is interested in stem cell research.

Kiarra Richardson ’21 became interested in conducting stem cell research while taking part in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program at Louisiana State University in the spring of 2019. During her 10 weeks of research, she became fascinated by the potential stem cells have to further treatments of everything from traumatic injuries to degenerative diseases.

Interested in learning more about the field, she began exploring the work of Shue Wang, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of New Haven, whose research interests include biosensors, single cell analysis, regenerative medicine, and tissue engineering. Dr. Wang became her faculty mentor, and they identified a specific group of individuals, astronauts, who could benefit from the research Richardson was interested in.

Kiarra Richardson.
Kiarra Richardson ’21.

“Dr. Wang showed how we could apply her work to astronauts and the effects on their bodies after going into space,” explains Richardson, a chemical engineering major. “The important and admirable work of astronauts often leads to bone mass loss, so the research could explore stem cell therapy for these circumstances. It could also relate to degenerative bone diseases that are related to aging. Helping more people, especially those who sacrifice so much to explore, was very enticing and led us to start the research.”

Richardson hopes her work will shed light on how microgravity in space can affect stem cell differentiation for bone-related therapies and believes it could provide a basis for the treatment of astronauts and increase their treatment options.

In recognition of the potential of her research, she was selected as one of only 28 undergraduate students in Connecticut to receive a Fall 2020 Connecticut Space Grant award from the NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium, a federally mandated grant, internship, and scholarship program that is funded as a part of NASA Education.

“Receiving this award means so much to me,” she said. “It is amazing that the Consortium has given me such an opportunity and believes in this project, as well in as my ability to complete the research. I am extremely grateful to them and to Dr. Shue Wang. I intend to do everything possible to ensure the research is as thorough and helpful as possible.”

‘This award grants me an amazing opportunity’

Richardson is one of two University of New Haven undergraduates to receive the grant award. Her classmate, Gabriel Galeotos ’22, is also conducting research involving astronauts, with a focus on heart disease. A myocarditis research assistant, he became interested in researching the causes of heart disease and in the work that Anna Kloc, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biology and environmental science, was conducting on myocarditis – inflammation of the heart muscle.

Gabriel Galeotos.
Gabriel Galeotos ’22.

Galeotos, a biology major, will investigate the immune system response to virus-induced heart diseases using 75 samples of post-mortem heart biopsy samples. He endeavors to focus on astronauts because extended space travel can cause their hearts to deteriorate.

“This deterioration is coupled with improper immune system responses, and a proper response is necessary to defend the heart from pathogens,” he explains. “I hope my research will be successful in defining baseline gene expression patterns, as they will assist in the development of preventing cardiac damage. This award grants me an amazing opportunity to assist our space program in ensuring that all astronauts can live a full life without worrying about any cardiovascular problems.”

‘I am so grateful’

Grateful for the support of his family and his classmates, Galeotos credits his professors with instilling in him a deep academic background and understanding of the research. He is particularly grateful for the support of his faculty mentor, who has enabled him to develop grant writing and research skills.

“Dr. Kloc has been helping me throughout this project, and without her none of this would be possible,” he said. “She has taught me valuable laboratory skills and demonstrated to me how to do each part of the research. Furthermore, this award allows me to enhance my laboratory and communication skills, which are valuable skills that I will need throughout my life.”

Richardson, the chemical engineering major, looks forward to working on this project during her final semester at the University. She hopes to continue to conduct research beyond her time as a Charger. She aspires to pursue her doctorate and hopes to help develop stem cell treatments.

“The faculty members at the University have really worked hard to make sure I felt supported,” she said. “They have given me countless unique opportunities to broaden my academic and career horizons. This award really helps ease some worries over financial resources for research in my last semester, and I am so grateful to the Consortium for choosing me.”