Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. and may surpass heart disease as the leading killer by 2030. More than 18 million people globally (1.9 million in the U.S.) are diagnosed with cancer each year, and nearly 10 million globally (609,000 in the U.S.)
The International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory enables researchers, physicians, engineers, and other innovators from a broad spectrum of public and private organizations to access to the unique environment of space. Leveraging this one-of-a-kind research platform provides a valuable opportunity to identify new solutions to complex problems on Earth, including technologies and products to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer and other diseases.
Multiple projects sponsored by the ISS National Lab and supported by NASA, other U.S. government agencies, and private industry focus on cancer, other disease-related research, and biomedical technologies. These studies not only advance our understanding of the causes of human disease but also accelerate the translation to disease diagnostics, therapeutics, and biomanufacturing. Findings from space-based research inform disease prevention, promote earlier disease detection, and promise safer, more effective treatments.
Cancer Research Areas
Microgravity has been used for three decades to improve the production of crystalline forms of molecules. Space-based crystallization yields higher quality crystals that in turn provide higher-resolution structural images of important drugs, therapeutic molecules, and their targets to accelerate drug development.
In microgravity, human stem cells are able to assemble into complex three-dimensional structures that more closely resemble and function like tissues and organs in the human body. This enables the manufacture of biological products with fewer defects for clinical application. It also allows for the development and testing of organoid and tissue chip models for use in accelerated disease modeling and the testing of therapeutic treatments.
Advanced manufacturing in microgravity can result in improved biomedical products. This includes the production of drug-targeting vehicles like micro- and nanoparticles with improved performance in the body, resulting in safer and more effective therapies for the treatment of disease. It also includes bioprinted tissues for regenerative medicine applications and the production of therapeutics. Regenerative medicine includes gene therapies, cell therapies, and tissue-engineered products intended to augment, repair, replace, or regenerate organs, tissues, cells, genes, and metabolic processes in the body.