At a Glance
- A novel cancer treatment developed by the biotech company Angiex, Inc. targets cells lining the blood vessels to potentially treat 90% of cancers.
- Microgravity is ideal to test treatment effects and drug toxicity because cells more closely mimic those in the human body.
- Angiex’s investigation was sent to the ISS National Lab on Space X CRS-15 on June 29, 2018.
As the second-leading cause of death in the U.S., many of us have seen firsthand the devastating effects of cancer. With more than 100 types of cancer, it’s easy to see why experts describe it as a collection of diseases rather than a single condition. But, imagine a therapy with the potential to treat 90% of all cancers.
On June 29, 2018, an experiment testing such a possibility made its way to the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory as part of the Space X CRS-15 mission. Angiex, Inc. has developed a novel cancer therapy targeting a protein involved in the proliferation of endothelial cells, which line blood vessels.
Although there are many distinct types of cancers, most tumors need sufficient blood supply and depend on endothelial tissue for survival. Decreasing that blood supply could prevent further growth or reduce tumor size.
Angiex’s therapy has shown promise in mice models but needs to be tested using human cells. The issue is that there currently isn’t an adequate model to test drug toxicity in vivo—or in living cells. Current Earth-based cell culture methods can be used, but these cells don’t behave quite like cells in the body. However, microgravity presents a promising solution.
In microgravity, endothelial cells show a persistent state of reduced cell growth, which is more similar to cell behavior in the body than in cell cultures on Earth. Additionally, cells in microgravity can be grown in three dimensions instead of only two dimensions.
Having a model that is more representative of the human body’s conditions would allow the researchers to better evaluate how well the vascular-targeted drug works and examine the drug’s toxicity before starting clinical trials.
The ISS National Lab and Boeing selected Angiex, Inc. as one of three biotechnology research companies to receive funding through the MassChallenge business accelerator program. This $500,000 grant provides seed funding and assists with hardware costs associated with spaceflight. Through the MassChallenge business accelerator program, the ISS National Lab and Boeing have collectively provided funding to more than 10 companies interested in leveraging microgravity to enhance their products and/or therapies on Earth.
With these resources in hand, Angiex, Inc. has set forth exploring a new frontier in cancer treatment. The trip to space is merely an initial step in bringing home something that could help many of the people we know and love.