The National Stem Cell Foundation (NSCF) announced it will launch the first 3D cellular models of Parkinson’s disease, and primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS), to the International Space Station (ISS) to study the cells in low-gravity conditions.
“This innovative approach to study has the potential to provide new insights into the mechanism of these diseases that may accelerate new drug and cell therapy options for patients,” according to the NSCF.
The models, called organoids, use cells taken from people with these two neurodegenerative diseases. Because they are 3D and incorporate multiple kinds of cells — including microglia, the inflammatory cells of the brain — these models are considered relatively good representations of the way cells act and interact in the body. Researchers are particularly interested in observing, in microgravity, biological events such as cell signaling, migration, changes in gene expression — how information in a gene is synthesized to create a protein — and pathways of neuroinflammation.
This knowledge can help scientists gain insight into the molecular mechanism underlying these diseases, in this way accelerating therapy discovery.
Studying these models in the lower gravity of the ISS will provide “an opportunity to view the biological processes and biomarkers involved in a way that is not possible on Earth,” according to a NSCF press release. This has the potential to “enable progress in the field.”
The first organoids to be launched will go up on SpaceX18, which is scheduled for liftoff on July 21 from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
This will be a preliminary flight aimed at testing the facilities and technology required to transport, house, and maintain cell cultures of this sort on the ISS. Studies specific to Parkinson’s and PPMS are planned for autumn of this year. Researchers will send patient-derived human 3-D models of the diseases to the space station for 30 days.
“The National Stem Cell Foundation is delighted to be funding innovative science at the frontier of new drug and cell therapy discovery,” said Paula Grisanti, DMD, MBA, the NSCF’s CEO. Grisanti said the research “may fundamentally alter our understanding of how and why neurodegeneration occurs.”
The engineering needed to transport and house the organoids is being led by Space Tango, which is developing automated systems to support this research. By removing the “human element,” these systems hold the promise of being more consistent and capable of analyzing many samples at once. In addition to improving research in space, this technology may help improve lab work done on the planet’s surface, researchers say.
“We are very pleased to support this important research on the ISS and look forward to continuing to work together with the National Stem Cell Foundation and other partners they may bring on for future flight,” said Jana Stoudemire, commercial innovation officer at Space Tango.