Experiments will be conducted on board the International Space Station (ISS) to see how human tissue will grow in zero-gravity conditions.
Researchers from Airbus and the University of Zurich (UZH) plan to ship materials with the next resupply flight for the ISS, which will allow astronauts to grow three-dimensional organ-like tissues called organoids.
The organoids, which will be grown from human adult stem cells, cannot be produced on Earth because they require supporting skeletons due to the effect of gravity.
3D organoids are of great interest to pharmaceutical companies because they could make it possible to test drugs directly on human tissue, which could provide more reliable results and remove the need for animal models.
Organoids grown from patient stem cells could also be used in the future as building blocks for tissue replacement therapy for damaged organs.
Worldwide, the number of organs donated is far from sufficient to meet demand. The first preliminary tests on the ISS 18 months ago were successful.
In this experiment, 250 test tubes of human stem cells spent a month aboard the space station showed differentiated organ-like liver, bone and cartilage structures developing as intended from the tissue stem cells.
In contrast, the soil-created cultures grown as a control under normal gravity conditions showed no or only minimal cell differentiation. In the current mission, tissue stem cells from two women and two men of different ages are sent into space.
The researchers are testing how robust the method is when using cells with different biological variability.
They expect that production in microgravity will be easier and more reliable than using support structures to grow on Earth. “Currently, the focus is on production engineering and quality control,” says Ugh scientist Oliver Ulrich.
“With regard to the intended commercialization, we now need to find out how long and in what quality we can keep the space-grown organoids in culture after their return to Earth.” Airbus project manager Julian Raatschen said:
“If successful, the technology could be further developed and brought to operational maturity. Airbus and the Ugh Space Hub can thus make a further contribution to improving the quality of life on Earth through space-based solutions.
” The sample material will return to Earth in early October and the first results are expected from November.
In June, an additional solar panel was placed on the ISS to give the station a much-needed boost of electricity as demand for low-gravity experiments and space tourism grows.