Early-stage entrepreneurs are major drivers of innovation and not only contribute to the U.S. economy but create new markets for the world. Over the past four years, CASIS has partnered with the Boston-based organization MassChallenge (through their business accelerator program) to help fund start-up companies that have unique and innovative concepts that could be enhanced through research onboard the ISS National Lab. This is the third year that CASIS has partnered with the Boeing Company for the competition, and CASIS and Boeing have collectively awarded $1.5 million in seed funding and hardware development costs to eight companies through MassChallenge.
In November 2016, CASIS and Boeing awarded financial support to three new companies through MassChallenge, highlighted here.
ANGIEX, INC. • Endothelial Cells in Microgravity as a Model System for Evaluation of Cancer Therapy Toxicity
Angiex, Inc., a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is working to develop a new type of cancer therapy with broad application to different cancers. Although there are many different types of cancer, all solid tumors must generate new blood vessels to grow. Angiex has created a novel cancer therapy that targets a protein involved in the proliferation of the cells that line the walls of blood vessels—called endothelial cells (ECs). Angiex will evaluate the hypothesis that microgravity-cultured ECs represent a valid model system to test the effects of vascular-targeted drugs on normal blood vessels. If the hypothesis is validated, microgravity-cultured ECs would constitute an important model system for evaluating the action of any vascular-targeted drug.
DOVER LIFESCIENCES • Microgravity Crystallization of Glycogen Synthase-Glycogenin Protein Complex
Dover Lifesciences, a biotechnology company based in Dover, Massachusetts, is working to develop new drugs for metabolic diseases. The crystallization of proteins for structural determination is an important tool for drug discovery. Dover Lifesciences aims to utilize the microgravity environment on the ISS to crystallize a medically relevant protein complex that has not been crystallized on Earth with adequate uniformity to enable high-resolution structural analysis. Determination of the structure of this protein complex may aid in the development of drugs that could be used to treat obesity, rare genetic disorders, and potentially cancer.
LAMBDAVISION, INC. • Enhancement of Performance and Stability of a Protein-Based Retinal Implant by Manufacturing in Microgravity
LambdaVision, Inc., a biotechnology company based in Farmington, Connecticut, is working to develop a protein-based retinal implant to restore vision to the millions of people with blindness resulting from degenerative eye diseases. The retinal implant is generated utilizing an automated approach to deposit multiple layers of a light-sensitive protein, bacteriorhodopsin, into a flexible architecture. Gravity interferes with the homogeneity and uniformity of the layers during deposition, and LambdaVision hypothesizes that preparing the multi-layer films in microgravity will improve the homogeneity of the film layers, the orientation of the protein within the film, and the stability of the resulting multilayer system.
The mission of the ISS National Lab is to provide access and opportunity for research that uniquely leverages the microgravity environment of the ISS to benefit life on Earth. The next great discovery or innovation for our planet may come from research conducted off our planet, and investment in innovative ideas from start-up companies could yield returns capable of changing the way that we live.