The International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory is finalizing more than a dozen payloads for launch to the orbiting laboratory on SpaceX’s 17th commercial resupply services (CRS) mission. The launch, originally planned for Tuesday, April 30, is currently scheduled for no earlier than Friday, May 3. This will mark the 29th launch of ISS National Lab investigations since 2013, as the ISS National Lab continues to enable a new era of research in space to benefit life on Earth. Many of the ISS National Lab payloads on this mission are aimed at improving human health, with several focused on drug development and screening.
Included on this mission are four tissue chip investigations funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), through its joint Tissue Chips in Space initiative with the ISS National Lab. The Tissue Chips in Space initiative is a multiyear, multiflight program that aims to advance understanding of human diseases, with the goal of translating findings into potential new treatments to improve health on Earth.
Tissue chips are small devices engineered to grow human cells on an artificial scaffold to model the structure and function of human tissues and organs. In microgravity, tissue chips have the potential to accelerate pathways for understanding the mechanisms behind disease and developing new treatments. One tissue chip investigation from Emulate, Inc. is aimed at better understanding the blood-brain barrier, which could help reveal the mechanisms behind nerodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Another tissue chip investigation from Massachusetts Institute of Technology is exploring pathways that could lead to new treatments for osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, which affects millions of people.
The National Cancer Institute, also part of NIH, is collaborating with the ISS National Lab on a protein crystal growth investigation to help accelerate drug discovery. In microgravity, crystals often grow larger and with more uniformity than on the ground. High-quality crystals provide a more detailed understanding of protein structure, which enables improved structure-based drug design. This investigation seeks to grow high-quality crystals of the Taspase1 enzyme. Results could help researchers develop drugs to treat cancers such as leukemia, certain types of breast cancer, and glioblastoma (an aggressive brain cancer).
Major pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is launching the first of multiple experiments to the ISS National Lab. In this first investigation, AstraZeneca seeks to advance a novel drug delivery system that uses nanoparticles as carriers for drugs. Small solid particles or liquid droplets containing a therapeutic substance can be enclosed within a shell, providing targeted drug delivery and controlled drug release, which has many advantages over conventional multidose therapy. Particle size and size distribution are key to improving these particle-based drug delivery systems, and these properties can be manipulated in microgravity. Results from this investigation could lead to improved drug formulations that provide greater efficacy and are more easily tolerated by patients.