The International Space Station (ISS) National Lab enables a wide variety of research aimed at advancing the field of regenerative medicine—from cell-based studies to organoid growth investigations, tissue chip research, and even the development of facilities capable of 3D bioprinting human tissues. Recently, the ISS National Lab was recognized by the Regenerative Medicine Foundation for exceptional leadership in enabling valuable regenerative medicine research.
The ISS National Lab released its first research solicitation in the field of regenerative medicine in 2013, focused on stem cell research. Since then, the ISS National Lab has continued to support important projects and activities in the area of regenerative medicine, with 12 payloads in this research area flown to the ISS and 18 publications resulting from ISS National Lab research and development (R&D). Currently, there are 35 regenerative medicine projects in the ISS National Lab portfolio, supported by eight in-orbit commercial service providers.
More recently, the ISS National Lab has partnered with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) on multiyear programs that support regenerative medicine research on the ISS National Lab. These collaborations have resulted in grant commitments from NIH and NSF totaling $26 million.
Sending Tissue Chips to Space with the National Institutes of Health
In 2016, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), part of NIH, announced a four-year collaboration with the ISS National Lab to support the use of tissue chip technology for translational research onboard the ISS to benefit human health on Earth. In June 2017, five initial projects were awarded grants through the NCATS Tissue Chips in Space initiative. In December 2017, the ISS National Lab, NCATS, and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB)—also part of NIH—announced a second funding opportunity supporting tissue chip research in space, and the awardees were announced in October 2018.
What are Tissue Chips?
Advances in bioengineering have led to the development of tissue chips—systems containing human cells grown on artificial scaffolding to represent functional units of an organ. Such tissue chips mimic the 3D structure and function of human tissue, enabling accelerated and higher-accuracy drug screening. Tissue chips also provide improved models of disease that could help scientists uncover the molecular mechanisms behind a wide range of conditions affecting people on Earth.
(MEDIA CREDIT: Image courtesy of NCATS)
Since 2015, the ISS National Lab has participated in the semi-annual NIH Tissue Chip Consortium Meeting. At the meeting, which is being held in Bethesda, Maryland this week, researchers who have been awarded grants through the Tissue Chips in Space program are presenting their ISS National Lab research projects.
Speakers at the meeting include the principal investigator of the first Tissue Chips in Space-supported investigation to be launched to the ISS National Lab. The project, from a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, launched on SpaceX’s 16th commercial resupply services (CRS) mission in December. The investigation is aimed at using tissue chip technology to examine immune function in microgravity to better understand changes in the immune system that occur as people age.
Four more Tissue Chips in Space investigations are scheduled for launch on SpaceX’s upcoming 17th CRS mission:
- A project from Massachusetts Institute of Technology aims to study the effects of spaceflight on musculoskeletal disease using a cartilage-bone-synovium joint tissue chip model. Learn more in the ISS360 article “Joint Jeopardy: MIT Researchers Use Space to Solve the Chronic Pain of Osteoarthritis.”
- Emulate, Inc. seeks to study microgravity’s effects on blood-brain barrier physiology to develop and validate a proprietary tissue chip platform for experiments using human cells. Learn more in the ISS360 article “Emulating Human Biology With Tissue Chips.”
- The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia seeks to test tissue chip systems of the human airway and bone marrow to model how the respiratory and immune systems interact to fight infection.
- A University of Washington investigation will study tissue chip systems that model the human kidney to better understand proteinuria (a condition in which a person’s urine contains an abnormal level of protein), kidney stone formation, and the body’s use of Vitamin D. Learn more in this article from the University of Washington and in the video below.
NIH Director Francis Collins shared his thoughts on sending human tissue chips to space in a blog post in December, and NCATS Director Dr. Christopher Austin discussed the importance of tissue chip research onboard the ISS National Lab in a recent Scientific American “Observations” article. For more information about the Tissue Chips in Space initiative, visit the NCATS website.