Brain organoids derived from patients taken to space station

Studies in microgravity may help to better understand and treat Parkinson's

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

Share this article:

Share article via email
Two people examine a huge human brain with the help of a flashlight and a magnifying glass.

3D “mini-brains,” or brain organoids, derived from people with Parkinson’s disease and primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) are now at the International Space Station (ISS) as part of ongoing research in the unique effects of space on the human brain.

How brain cells interact in microgravity, a condition under which people or objects appear to be weightless, may help in understanding the mechanisms that underlie these and other neurodegenerative disorders. Such insights are paramount to finding novel biomarkers for an earlier disease diagnosis, and in accelerating the development of new therapies.

The research is part of a partnership between the National Stem Cell Foundation (NSCF) and the European commercial Axiom Space (Ax-3) astronaut mission, which carried the brain organoids to the station.

Recommended Reading
A person wearing a baseball cap speaks using a megaphone cone.

AbbVie launches Produodopa for advanced Parkinson’s in EU

Parkinson’s research in the ‘unique environment of microgravity’

“These commercial astronaut missions expand our access to the ISS for additional research in the unique environment of microgravity, accelerating data collection and moving this ground-breaking project forward at an accelerated pace,” Paula Grisanti, CEO and a founding member of the NSCF, said in a foundation press release.

The Ax-3 astronaut mission left the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Jan. 18, as part of the NSCF Cosmic Brain Organoid project, the first to study mechanisms of neurodegeneration in space. It marks the fifth Cosmic Brain Organoid project flight since 2018.

Organoids from 30 Axiom Space research studies will stay for two weeks at the space station. Besides neurodegeneration, cancer research, and studies in protein aggregation and into astronaut health also are underway. Findings aim to benefit future astronauts, and potentially all of us on Earth by leading to new ways of protecting the brain against cognitive decline.

“The world is increasingly looking to space for answers to questions about improving human health on Earth. Space offers a completely unique research environment for the advancement of biological, agricultural, environmental, and additive manufacturing discoveries. We are excited to continue our innovative neurodegeneration research,” Grisanti said.

This is the first collaboration on the role of microgravity in neurodegeneration involving experts in the fields of Parkinson’s disease and MS, including scientists at the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute and Scripps Research in San Diego.

A separate goal of the Ax-3 mission is to advance work toward the Axiom Station, a planned commercial space station.