2018 Tissue Chips in Space Projects

In October 2018, NCATS, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space announced four two-year awards for approximately $4.98 million to use tissue chip technology to better understand the mechanisms of disease and the effectiveness of potential treatments in the extreme environment of space. The projects are part of a collaboration to conduct translational research on board the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory.

Access the links below to learn more about the projects awarded in 2018:

Emulate, Inc., Boston

Organ-Chips as a Platform for Studying Effects of Space on Human Enteric Physiology: Interactions of Epithelial Mucosa with Sensory Neurons and Microbiome

Principal Investigators: Christopher D. Hinojosa, M.S., and Katia Karalis, M.D., Ph.D.

Implementation Partner: Space Tango

Grant Number: 1-UG3-TR-002595-01

To better understand the body’s response to bacterial infection, researchers will create and study a tissue model that mimics the lining of the intestine, including cells involved in immune responses. Enhancements to a previously developed platform include adding capabilities to see cells in microscopic detail and to mimic the movement of the intestine during digestion. The researchers will use the platform to study the tissue’s response to salmonella, comparing what happens to the tissue model on this platform when exposed to salmonella bacteria on Earth versus in space. The researchers will also test whether probiotics — such as the bacteria found in yogurt and other foods — protect the intestine from infection. Ultimately, the researchers aim to use this knowledge to prevent the type of foodborne infections that cause 1.2 million illnesses each year.

Learn more about this project in NIH RePORTER.

Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, La Jolla, California

Electrical Stimulation of Human Myocytes in Microgravity: An In Vitro Model to Evaluate Therapeutics to Counteract Muscle Wasting

Principal Investigator: Siobhan Malany, Ph.D.

Implementation Partners: Adventist Health System Sunbelt, Inc., dba Florida Hospital; SpacePharma, Inc.; and the University of Florida

Grant Number: 1-UG3-TR-002598-01

Muscles lose strength and mass in space. These same changes happen as part of aging, although on a slower timeline. A muscle-wasting condition known as sarcopenia is common among the elderly but not well understood. For this project, researchers will refine a tissue chip to study muscle cells and how they respond to stimulation in regular and low-gravity environments. The chip can work as a self-contained lab, with the ability to fire an electrical charge to stimulate the muscle cells, optical technology to detect contractions and channels for delivering drugs. The researchers will examine muscle cells derived from athletic young volunteers and from sedentary older ones in regular and low-gravity environments. Further testing will investigate if changes due to muscle wasting can be prevented. One day, researchers may be able to use this chip to test medicines to prevent or treat sarcopenia.

Learn more about this project in NIH RePORTER.

Stanford University, Stanford, California

Effect of Microgravity on Drug Responses Using Engineered Heart Tissues

Principal Investigators: Joseph C. Wu, M.D., Ph.D., and Beth L. Pruitt, Ph.D., M.Sc.

Implementation Partner:  BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder

Grant Number: 1-UG3-TR-002588-01

Cardiomyopathy can lead to irregular heartbeats, the backup of blood into the lungs or rest of the body, and heart failure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 out of 500 adults has the condition. The low-gravity environment of space has a negative effect on an astronaut’s heart, causing it to shrink and get weaker. Using stem cells obtained from African American, Hispanic and Caucasian volunteers, researchers aim to develop a mini 3-D model of beating heart tissue. The researchers will then use this model to document the ways low gravity causes changes in the structure and function of heart tissue and find out if returning to a normal-gravity environment reverses these effects. A well-tested model can be used to see if widely used heart medications, including ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers and statins, can protect heart tissue from the effects of muscle wasting and to study any individual differences in tissue response.

Learn more about this project in NIH RePORTER.

University of Washington, Seattle

A Human iPSC-Based 3-D Microphysiological System for Modeling Cardiac Dysfunction in Microgravity*

Principal Investigator: Deok-Ho Kim, Ph.D., M.S.

Implementation Partners: The Ohio State University and BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder

Grant Number: 1-UG3-EB-028094-01

This project involves design of a research tool to better study how weightlessness affects the heart. The research will be conducted in two phases. First, researchers will compare heart tissue generated from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) in regular and low-gravity environments. The researchers will encourage a 3-D mass of heart muscle cells to form on plates that can measure the force of the heart muscle tissue beating. Comparing tissue on the International Space Station and in a normal-gravity lab over time, the researchers will catalog visible changes as well as changes at the genetic level. A second research phase will test methods to improve the heart cells’ contractions, including mechanical stimulation, which mimics muscle conditioning, and drugs known to protect the heart from irregular heartbeat or heart disease. The results could be used to help protect astronauts’ health on long missions and to find new ways to study and treat heart diseases related to aging.

Learn more about this project in NIH RePORTER.

*Funded by NIH’s NIBIB and NCATS.