At a Glance
- In a recent ISS National Lab investigation, Stanford University researchers examined microgravity’s effects on heart function using 3D heart tissues derived from human cells.
- Results could help improve the screening of potential new drugs to treat heart conditions on Earth.
- This investigation, funded through the NCATS Tissue Chips in Space initiative, builds on a previous ISS National Lab investigation that looked at the effects of microgravity on stem-cell derived heart cells.
- NASA astronaut Kate Rubins worked on both the team’s initial investigation back in 2016 as well as this recent second investigation during her current stay on the ISS.
February is a time to think of hearts—but not just the ones in Valentine’s Day cards. As American Heart Month, we should take time this month to also think about heart health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every four adult deaths in the U.S. is due to heart disease, amounting to more than 600,000 deaths each year. To help patients with heart disease on Earth, a research team from Stanford University recently sent an experiment to the International Space Station (ISS). The investigation, sponsored by the ISS U.S. National Laboratory, seeks to examine microgravity’s effects on heart function using three-dimensional heart tissues derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iSPCs).
This project, led by principal investigator Joseph Wu, builds on a previous ISS National Lab investigation in which the team studied microgravity’s effects on heart cells derived from iSPCs and found that microgravity alters heart function at the cellular level. Results from the team’s initial investigation were published in the journal Stem Cell Reports. In the second investigation, the team is moving from 2D cell culture to 3D heart tissues and seeks to determine whether engineered heart tissue exposed to microgravity displays characteristics similar to ischemic cardiomyopathy.
Ischemic cardiomyopathy is a condition in which heart muscles are weakened due to heart disease or a heart attack. In microgravity, muscles such as the heart do not have to work against gravity and can become weakened due to disuse. The team hopes to use results from this investigation to develop heart tissue arrays that can be used to improve the screening of potential new drugs to treat heart conditions on Earth.
Interestingly, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins worked on the team’s initial experiment during her time on the ISS back in 2016 and now worked on this second experiment during her current stay on the ISS. The investigation recently returned from the ISS on SpaceX’s 21st Commercial Resupply Services mission and was transported back to the team for further analysis.
The team's second investigation was awarded through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) Tissue Chips in Space initiative. Tissue chips are small devices that contain human cells grown on an artificial scaffold to model the detailed physical structure and function of human tissue.
In 2016, NCATS, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (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 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.