News Release, National Institutes of Health
A big challenge in unlocking the mysteries of aging is how long you need to study humans, or even human cells, to get answers. But, in partnership with NASA, NIH is hoping that space will help facilitate this important area of research.
It’s already known, from what’s been seen in astronauts, that the weightless conditions found in space can speed various processes associated with aging. So, might it be possible to use the space station as a lab to conduct aging experiments?
To find out, NIH-funded researchers are loading a few dozen human tissue chips—tiny, 3D devices bioengineered to model different tissues and organs—onto a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft that will ferry supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, which is orbiting about 400 kilometers above Earth. If all goes as planned, SpaceX and its special biomedical cargo will lift off from Cape Canaveral, FL at 1:16 p.m. ET on Wednesday, December 5.
These tissue chips, which model various aspects of the human immune system, represent the first in a series of three biomedical research payloads being sent to the space station. They will be followed in the coming months by chips that model the lungs, kidneys, bone and cartilage, and the blood-brain barrier.
This research cargo stems from a unique collaboration started a few years ago between NASA and NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). The collaboration, which now includes NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), spawned the Tissue Chips in Space initiative. This effort encourages researchers to design experiments that take advantage of the low-gravity conditions found aboard the space station.
Under weightless conditions, the biophysics of cell growth is simpler, chemical reactions can be easier to track, and proteins crystallize more uniformly. This simplicity may make space-based experiments helpful not only for understanding biology, but for screening for new drugs that might slow aging or treat age-related diseases.
For the first Tissue Chips in Space experiments, a team from the University of California, San Francisco created a set of chips that consist of certain immune cells, bone marrow cells that make the immune cells, and endothelial cells that line the blood vessels and are the site of possible infections. Upon arrival at the space station, these chips will be unloaded by the astronauts and tucked away in an incubator for two weeks. After that, the astronauts will freeze the tissue chips for their eventual return to Earth so researchers can analyze them for changes related to the aging process.
The next set of tissue chips, scheduled to blast into space from Cape Canaveral in February 2019, will include a chip that models the blood-brain barrier. This blood vessel-tissue interface can prevent certain molecules—including some potentially beneficial therapies—from entering the brain. The third launch, from Wallops Island, VA, is set for April 2019. For the most current information, check out NASA’s launch schedule.
Here’s wishing everyone a successful blast off and some really cool science results!
The Southern Maryland Chronicle is a local, small business entrusted to provide factual, unbiased reporting to the Southern Maryland Community. While we look to local businesses for advertising, we hope to keep that cost as low as possible in order to attract even the smallest of local businesses and help them get out to the public. We must also be able to pay employees(part-time and full-time), along with equipment, and website related things. We never want to make the Chronicle a “pay-wall” style news site.
To that end, we are looking to the community to offer donations. Whether it’s a one-time donation or you set up a reoccurring monthly donation. It is all appreciated. All donations at this time will be going to furthering the Chronicle through hiring individuals that have the same goals of providing fair, and unbiased news to the community. For now, donations will be going to a business PayPal account I have set-up for the Southern Maryland Chronicle, KDC Designs. All business transactions currently occur within this PayPal account. If you have any questions regarding this you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for all of your support and I hope to continue bringing Southern Maryland the best news possible for a very long time. — David M. Higgins II