At a Glance
- This year, 27 peer-reviewed publications detail results related to ISS National Lab-sponsored R&D, with a majority related to investigations funded by NIH and NSF.
- Since 2016, joint CASIS/NSF solicitations have resulted in more than $22 million in funding awarded to investigators via NSF grant awards and funding for Implementation Partner costs to support ISS National Lab flight projects.
- In FY21, startup companies Lynk, Spire Global, and Orbit Fab, raised a total of more than $30 in capital following their ISS National Lab-sponsored R&D.
- CASIS released four NLRAs this year to support advancement of ISS National Lab R&D strategic focus areas.
FY21 was a robust year for ISS National Lab R&D progress, with 27 peer-reviewed publications on investigations sponsored by the ISS National Lab, tying last year’s record for most publications in a single fiscal year. This brings the total number of peer-reviewed articles resulting from ISS National Lab-sponsored R&D to more than 150, and the total number of internationally published articles from ISS research to around 2,000. These publications complement the 15 products, multiple spinoff companies, and 5 patents to date resulting from ISS National Lab-sponsored research.
Most of this year’s publications (citations for which can be found in Appendix E) were related to investigations funded through joint solicitations with NSF and NIH, with the majority focused on aspects of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Peer-reviewed journal articles such as these are a critical means to disseminate findings from fundamental R&D activities. Journal publications not only advance scientific knowledge but also lend credibility, prestige, and merit to investigators who test hypotheses and demonstrate the capabilities of research platforms such as the ISS. Further bolstering this area of emphasis, the Cell Press publishing company released a special collection of 23 articles on the biology of spaceflight. Several of these articles mentioned ISS National Lab R&D, and one was authored by ISS National Lab staff highlighting open-source spaceflight data.
FY21 publications included the following:
- Two peer-reviewed publications detail results from a rodent research investigation examining the effects of microgravity on wound healing. The articles discuss how spaceflight provides a unique environment to identify key biomolecular processes that facilitate tissue regeneration.
- An investigator from Loma Linda University published a new paper detailing the impact of microgravity on cardiac progenitor cells (early-stage heart cells). This marks the fifth publication on results from this investigation, which is leveraging microgravity to improve cell-based therapies for heart conditions on Earth.
- An Emory University researcher, working with ISS National Lab Commercial Service Provider Techshot, Inc., published a paper on a new protocol for cryopreserving cardiac progenitor cells, transporting them to the ISS, and cultivating them in space. The protocol makes it easier to deliver cells to the ISS, provides more flexibility in preparing for launch, reduces the impact of launch loads on the cells, and allows for changes in astronaut schedules. Such protocols are critical to achieving the long-term goals of in-space biomanufacturing.
- Student researchers published results from their ISS National Lab-sponsored investigation in the open access journal PLOS One. Their project, awarded through the Genes in Space program, was the first to utilize CRISPER/Cas9 gene editing techniques in space.
- This year, 11 published papers detailed work on projects sponsored through the NIH Tissue Chips in Space initiative, and 11 papers were from investigations awarded through NSF/CASIS joint solicitations (five on tissue engineering and six on in the physical sciences area of transport phenomena).
Additionally, in FY21, a perspective paper was published in Preprints discussing the goals and outcomes of a Biomanufacturing in Space Symposium co-hosted by the ISS National Lab and the University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The symposium gathered more than 130 thought leaders in regenerative medicine and space-based R&D as a first step in developing a roadmap to establish a sustainable biomanufacturing market in LEO.
In FY21, biotechnology company Emulate, Inc. filed a patent related to its Intestine On-Chip, developed in part through company’s NIH-funded Tissue Chips in Space research. This marks the second patent Emulate has filed for this technology. Additionally, the company released its commercially available Brain-Chip this year, also developed through Tissue Chips in Space research. The Brain-Chip provides a model to study diseases involving neuroinflammation, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and test potential new therapeutics for these conditions. Emulate plans to fly a version of the Brain-Chip to the space station in another ISS National Lab-sponsored investigation scheduled to launch in FY22.
Three startup companies raised additional capital this year following ISS National Lab-sponsored R&D. These companies included Spire Global, a satellite-powered data company, raised $24 million; Lynk, a company focused on enabling anywhere-anytime communications across the world, raised $4.8 million; and Orbit Fab, which is working to establish the First Gas Stations in Space
To support the full R&D life cycle (from fundamental research to product commercialization), multiple ISS National Lab solicitations were released in FY21. On the front end of the research life cycle, two FY21 NSF-sponsored solicitations continued to support fundamental science that leverages the persistent microgravity environment of the ISS to advance scientific discovery for the benefit of Earth. Beginning in 2016, CASIS has partnered with the NSF Engineering Directorate on these annual research solicitations, including six solicitations in the physical sciences area of transport phenomena (2016 through 2021) and four solicitations in the biomedical area of tissue engineering and mechanobiology (2018 through 2021). In total, these solicitation cycles have resulted in the award of 38 NSF peer-reviewed proposals representing 40 payloads—and the infusion of more than $22 million of non-NASA grant funding to the principal investigators via the NSF grant awards and funding for the Implementation Partners supporting their spaceflight investigations.
In support of the later stages of product development, CASIS released a new series of NLRAs during FY21 to advance ISS National Lab R&D strategic focus areas. One NLRA sought flight projects within applied research and development, translational science, technology readiness level maturation, and technology demonstrations. Two additional NLRAs were focused on in-space production applications, one in advanced manufacturing and materials and the other in tissue engineering and biomanufacturing. Another NLRA was centered on STEM education, specifically focusing on digital engagement and higher education. In total, $XXM was set aside in support of these new initiatives, and during FY21, 25 projects were awarded under these NLRAs.
(For a full list of FY21 solicitations, see Appendix A. For a full list of selected ISS National Lab-sponsored projects, see Appendix F).