At a Glance
- CASIS, manager of the ISS National Lab, and the University of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine hosted a Biomanufacturing in Space Symposium in 2020.
- The symposium was the first step in developing a roadmap to establish a sustainable biomanufacturing market in low Earth orbit.
- The symposium identified and prioritized the most promising opportunities to leverage the ISS for R&D to advance space-based biomanufacturing.
- A perspective paper developed from the symposium was recently published in Preprints.
Over the past two decades, space-based research and development (R&D) has demonstrated that microgravity can be leveraged to advance biomedical science in ways not possible on Earth. Access to space has also become increasingly easier with more frequent launches, and the cost of sending payloads to low Earth orbit (LEO) has dramatically decreased. In this same time, the fields of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine have achieved incredible advances, particularly in the areas of biomaterials, stem cell biology, and bioengineering.
With the convergence of these trends, we are now presented with a unique opportunity. ISS-based studies have shown that biomanufacturing in space has the potential to provide Earth benefits and economic value. Now is the time to utilize the powerful platform provided by the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory for further R&D that clearly demonstrates this value. Such R&D could lead to breakthroughs not possible on Earth and lay the foundation for increased investment in space-based biomanufacturing.
Biomanufacturing is the use of biological and nonbiological materials to produce commercially relevant biomolecules and biomaterials for use in preclinical, clinical, and therapeutic applications.
In 2020, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), manager of the ISS National Lab, and the University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine hosted a Biomanufacturing in Space Symposium. In a series of virtual working sessions, the symposium gathered thought leaders in the areas of tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, and space-based research to identify the most promising opportunities to leverage the ISS for R&D to advance space-based biomanufacturing. The symposium was meant to serve as the first step in developing a roadmap to establish a robust and sustainable market for biomanufacturing in space.
Through the symposium, multiple opportunities for space-based biomanufacturing R&D were identified and prioritized. These opportunities fall in three key areas: (1) disease modeling through the use of microphysiological systems (also called tissue chips) and organoids, (2) stem cells and stem-cell-derived products, and (3) biofabrication.
Symposium participants also noted the critical need for additional data to validate and de-risk the opportunities and underscored the importance of utilizing approaches such as automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to produce and capture this data. Additionally, symposium participants concluded that public-private partnership and funding will be crucial in advancing the opportunities toward a biomanufacturing marketplace in LEO.
Biomanufacturing in space holds great potential—both in benefitting life on Earth and in providing economic value and return on investment. We look forward to the coming decades, as we move beyond the initial discovery phase of biomedical research on the ISS toward establishing a sustainable market for space-based biomanufacturing supported by future commercial LEO platforms.