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Making use of space to promote stem cell research and medicine


The answer to growing big batches of stem cells more effectively might be found in space’s near-zero gravity. Microgravity has the potential to contribute to life-saving improvements on Earth, according to Cedars-Sinai scientists, by aiding the fast mass synthesis of stem cells.

A new article led by Cedars Sinai and published in the peer-reviewed journal Stem Cell Reports outlines important prospects for expanding stem cell manufacturing in space that were explored at the 2020 Biomanufacturing in Space Symposium.

In microgravity, biomanufacturing, a sort of stem cell production that employs biological materials like microorganisms to create chemicals and biomaterials appropriate for preclinical, clinical, and therapeutic applications, may be more productive.

“We are finding that spaceflight and microgravity is a desirable place for biomanufacturing because it confers a number of very special properties to biological tissues and biological processes that can help mass produce cells or other products in a way that you wouldn’t be able to do on Earth,” said Arun Sharma, PhD, research scientist and head of a new research laboratory in the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, Smidt.

“Remarkable achievements in regenerative medicine and exponential advancements in space technology have enabled new chances to access and exploit space in the past two decades,” he added.

According to the Cedars-Sinai report, attendees at a virtual space conference in December identified more than 50 possible economic prospects for undertaking biomanufacturing work in space. Disease modeling, biofabrication, and stem-cell-derived products were shown to be the most promising.

Scientists utilize disease modeling to research illnesses and potential therapies by duplicating full-function structures, whether utilizing stem cells, organoids (miniature 3D structures generated from human stem cells that mimic human tissue), or other tissues.

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Researchers discovered that when the body is subjected to low-gravity environments for long periods of time, bone loss and aging are accelerated. Researchers may better understand the principles of aging and illness development by building disease models based on this accelerated aging process.

“Not only will this work benefit astronauts, but it may also lead to the development of bone or skeletal muscle constructs that could be used to treat diseases like osteoporosis and other forms of accelerated bone aging and muscle wasting that people on Earth face,” said Sharma, the paper’s corresponding author.

Biofabrication, which employs manufacturing methods to create materials such as tissues and organs, was another hot subject during the conference. One of the most important biofabrication technologies is 3D printing.

Gravity-induced density makes it difficult for cells to expand and proliferate, which is a fundamental difficulty in the production of these materials on Earth. Because there is no gravity or density in space, scientists want to employ 3D printing to create unique forms and goods, such as organoids or heart tissues, that cannot be recreated on Earth.

The third category is concerned with stem cell development and understanding how microgravity affects some of their essential features. Potency, or the capacity of a stem cell to renew itself, and differentiation, or the ability of stem cells to transform into other cell types, are two of these qualities.

Understanding some of the impacts of spaceflight on stem cells might lead to more efficient methods of producing vast quantities of cells in the absence of gravity. Scientists at Cedars-Sinai will send stem cells into space early next year, in collaboration with NASA and a commercial contractor, Space Tango, to see whether big batches of stem cells can be produced in zero gravity.

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“While some of this research is still in the exploratory stage, it is no longer in the world of science fiction,” Sharma added. “We may witness a situation in the next five years where we discover cells or tissues that can be created in ways that are just not feasible on Earth. That, I believe, is quite exciting.”

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