Taking stem cells into space, surprisingly, isn’t a new concept. In fact earlier this year, Celixir reported on a study which saw stem cells taken onto a Chinese spacecraft to test out how gravity affects the development of human embryonic stem cells.
The effects of zero gravity are thought to help with the transformation of stem cells into other cells needed for specific treatments.
Now a team at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta are carrying out similar research. The team have been using space simulation machines to mimic the effect of microgravity on pluripotent stem cells, which they intend to transform into cardiac muscle cells to treat cardiac diseases.
The machines are called ‘random positioning machines’ – they work by periodically shifting cells so they never get used to one direction being up or down. Results so far have shown that using these machines can produce cardiac muscle cells with five times the yield of conventional cell culture.
To date stem cell-derived muscle cells have been used to treat heart failure in animal models. They’ve also been used to carry out essential research into inherited cardiac diseases outside of the body.
Soon the team, consisting of Chunhui Xu, PhD, Kevin Maher, MD, Rajneesh Jha, PhD and colleagues will get the chance to take the cells out of the lab and into space itself by taking the cells up to the International Space Station for further research. This has come as a result of being awarded a special two-year grant from the Centre for the Advancement of Science in Space.
For the experiments, the cells will be loaded into automated incubator devices, and transported to the international space center, where the research will begin.
“We think that what we learn from the cells in space will help in optimizing the generation of clinically relevant cardiac muscle cells on earth,” Xu says.