KENNEDY SPACE CENTER (FL), June 3, 2020 – At a time when so many feel isolated, the world came together with hopeful energy on Saturday to watch as two American astronauts were launched into orbit from U.S. soil for the first time in nearly a decade—and for the first time ever onboard a commercially owned spacecraft. The successful SpaceX Demo-2 launch and docking, which carried NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken from the Space Coast of Florida to the International Space Station (ISS), not only initiated a new era in American spaceflight but also rekindled the wonder and excitement of sending humans into space. Now, the two astronauts are getting to work in their new residence.
During their stay on the space station, the Demo-2 crew has joined the Expedition 63 crew in working on maintenance of the station and scientific research onboard the orbiting laboratory. This week, one of the first experiments Hurley and Behnken will work on is a project from a Massachusetts-based startup that aims to bring benefit back those of us here on the ground. The project, co-sponsored by the ISS U.S. National Laboratory and Boeing, seeks to enhance a drug delivery device for use in patients with conditions that require frequent injections, such as diabetes.
The project is from Cam Med Inc., a company that designs and builds microfluidics-based medical devices aimed at improving quality of life for patients. Cam Med has developed the Evopump—the first truly bandage-like patch pump for subcutaneous delivery of one or more medications. The thin and flexible pump adheres to a patient’s skin and infuses medications instead of injecting them. While many current drug delivery pumps are bulky and complex, the Evopump is designed to be small and discrete. Cam Med hopes their ISS National Lab project, which launched on SpaceX’s 20th commercial resupply services mission in March and is supported by Ohio-based engineering services company ZIN Technologies, will help them improve dosage control in the Evopump.
Space-based research is important to Cam Med because the functional absence of gravity reduces some complexities of the physical environment, allowing more thorough studies in microfluidics. Within the Evopump, bubbles are produced on an electrode using a technique called electrolysis, in which an electric current drives a reaction. These bubbles create differences in pressure in the device that enable its precise, controlled drug delivery. Onboard the space station, the research team can evaluate processes such as bubble formation and behavior in ways not possible on the ground. A better understanding of how bubbles evolve on the Evopump electrode could allow Cam Med to further enhance the device and its benefits for potential patients.
Cam Med’s experiment, one of many scientific investigations the Demo-2 crew will work on while onboard the ISS, is supported by a “Technology in Space Prize.” Through the prize, the ISS National Lab and Boeing award grants to startups associated with the MassChallenge accelerator program to conduct innovative research and development onboard the ISS. In total, the ISS National Lab and Boeing have awarded more than $4.5 million in funding through the Technology in Space Prize since its inception. During this multiyear partnership, more than a dozen investigations from innovative entrepreneurs have launched to the station, with diverse goals including but not limited to the production of retinal implants in microgravity and the development or improvement of cancer therapeutics.
When Hurley and Behnken return to Earth on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, it will bring this historic mission to a close—but this is just the beginning of a new chapter in American spaceflight. Space has always held a unique power to connect humanity, and in today’s uncertainty, collective achievement and hope is critical in inspiring all Americans to continue to reach for the stars in pursuit of a shared future in space.
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About the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory: In 2005, Congress designated the U.S. portion of the ISS as the nation’s newest national laboratory to optimize its use for improving quality of life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users, and advancing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. This unique laboratory environment is available for use by non-NASA U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The ISS National Lab manages access to the permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space.
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