National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences Supported Scientists Model Aging-Related Conditions in Space to Improve Human Health on Earth
Targeted News Service (Press Releases)
NCATS-supported researchers will send four projects into space to speed both the study of aging-related conditions and the development of treatments for them. The projects, which are scheduled to launch
Each project is funded through the Tissue Chips in Space initiative, a collaboration among NCATS,
Tissue Chips in Space
Tissue chips are tiny, complex bioengineered 3-D models that mimic the structure and function of human organ systems, such as the heart, kidneys and lungs. Scientists use tissue chips to test the potential effects of drugs on those tissues and to study diseases.
"A high percentage of candidate drugs fail in early testing in part because the models used are ineffective in predicting what will happen in patients," said NCATS director
The unique environment of space is the key for addressing some current translational science challenges in studying disease. In just a short period of time in the reduced gravity of space, astronauts' bodies experience certain changes. Many of these changes are similar to those that occur as we age, including altered immune systems, and loss of muscles and bones.
"Tissue chips in space provide a way to model various diseases of the aging process. Such models can be difficult or take a long time to develop here on earth but are greatly facilitated under microgravity, and scientists can use them to develop drugs that can prevent or slow down those diseases," said
Projects in Orbit
The Tissue Chips in Space projects will test the ability of the tissue chip technology to mimic how human organs work and reveal what effects microgravity has on tissue function. Each experiment, which will have a comparable experiment in normal gravity, will have direct clinical applications to health conditions we experience on Earth.
Headed to the International Space Station later this month are:
* Lung and bone marrow chips: Scientists and engineers at
* Kidney chips:
* Chips modeling the blood-brain barrier: Scientists and engineers at the biotechnology company Emulate will examine the mechanics of the blood-brain barrier and what makes it more permeable under microgravity. The blood-brain barrier is key to protecting the brain from infections and toxins in the blood. New insights into how the barrier works (or malfunctions) may help in understanding and treating neurodegenerative and immune disorders.
* Bone and cartilage chips:
On the Horizon
Each tissue chip project will fly into space twice. The initial group of tissue chips will remain on the
In addition to informing the development of new drugs and therapies, the projects could enable wider use of tissue chips on the ground.
"These projects illustrate a transformational acceleration in tissue chip technology that could make systems turn-key and automated, portable, and accessible to more researchers and more attractive to businesses, including pharmaceutical companies," said
In less than two years, the scientific teams and engineers collaborated to shrink a room full of lab equipment into "plug-and-play" shoebox-sized packages that could accommodate space limitations, stand the stress of spaceflight and be operated by astronauts and pilots who don't know the research.
This is the second time that
"Tissue Chips in Space is an incredibly exciting program involving teamwork across scientific disciplines and federal agencies," said Low, "and I'm excited to see it take off."
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- Editor's Note: Launch time has been updated to no earlier than
- Organ-on-chip projects at the International Space Station aim to speed the development of treatments for kidney stones, arthritis and more.