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Small Tissue Chips in Space a Big Leap Forward for Research

Small Tissue Chips in Space a Big Leap Forward for Research

Tissue chips, thumb-drive sized
devices that contain human cells in a 3D matrix, represent a giant leap in
science.

They can test cells’ response
to:

•stresses

•drugs

•genetic
changes

image

The Tissue
Chips in Space initiative seeks to better understand the role of
microgravity on human health and disease and to translate that understanding to
improved human health on Earth.

This series of
investigations to test tissue chips in microgravity aboard the International
Space Station is planned through a collaboration between the
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes for
Health (NIH)
and the National Laboratory
in partnership with NASA.

image

Many of the
changes in the human body caused by microgravity resemble the onset and
progression of diseases associated with aging on Earth, but in space, changes
occur much faster. Scientists may be able to use tissue chips in space to model
changes that take months or years to happen on Earth.

A tissue chip needs three
properties, according to Lucie Low, scientific program manager at NCATS. “It
has to be 3D,” she explained. “It must have multiple different types of cells,
and it must have microfluidic channels. Essentially, you get a functional unit
of what human tissues are like, outside of the body,” said Low.

image

As accurate models of
the structure and function of human organs, tissue chips provide a model for
predicting whether a drug, vaccine or biologic agent is safe in humans more
quickly and effectively than current methods.

image

This first
phase of Tissue Chips in Space includes five investigations.
An investigation of immune system aging is planned for launch on the SpaceX CRS-16
flight, scheduled for mid-November. The other four, scheduled to launch on subsequent
flights, include lung host defense, the blood-brain barrier, musculoskeletal disease
and kidney function. This phase tests the effects of microgravity on the tissue
chips and demonstrates the capability of the automated system.

All five investigations make a
second flight about 18 months later to confirm use of the model, such as testing
potential drugs on the particular organs. Four more projects are scheduled for
launch in summer 2020, including two on engineered heart tissue to understand
cardiovascular health, one on muscle wasting and another on gut inflammation.

Ultimately, the technology
could allow astronauts going into space to take along personalized chips that
could be used to monitor changes in their bodies and to test possible
countermeasures and therapies. That would be a major leap forward in keeping
astronauts healthy on missions to deep space!

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