Los Angeles,
06:00 AM

Cedars-Sinai Looks to Space for Tomorrow's Stem Cell Therapies

NASA Award, With Partner Space Tango, Will Launch Lab Project to Space Station

Is the future of personalized medicine out of this world? Cedars-Sinai is trying to find out by launching special stem cells into space to see if they multiply better there.

The Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute is partnering with Space Tango of Lexington, Kentucky, to send induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to the International Space Station. The first flight for the project, funded by a $1.5 million award from NASA, could occur as early as next year.

Human iPSCs are a type of stem cell, created in the lab from a person's blood or skin cells, that can make any cell in the body. Each body cell made this way carries the DNA of the individual. So iPSCs are ideal for creating and testing potential treatments that can be exactly tailored to the individual.

Cedars-Sinai has already used IPSCs to make many discoveries, including a recent study indicating that features of Parkinson's disease may be apparent in the womb.

"As useful as iPSCs are for research, their greatest contributions may lie ahead and beyond—in space, making stem cell therapies for future patients," said Clive Svendsen, PhD, director of the Regenerative Medicine Institute and professor of Biomedical Sciences and Medicine.

Through the NASA mission, Svendsen and his team are seeking to determine whether it is practical to produce large batches of stem cells in space for medical treatment for a variety of diseases. The pilot-scale system built for the space station is designed to serve as a basis for future commercial manufacturing systems. The International Space Station currently orbits the Earth at a height of about 260 miles.

The system will use hardware designed by Space Tango, a developer of fully automated, remote-controlled systems for research and manufacturing in orbit.

Prior studies have demonstrated that a microgravity environment, present in orbiting spacecraft, changes the behavior of a variety of stem cells. It delays the cells' natural tendency to spontaneously change—or differentiate—into multiple types of body cells. But few studies have delved into the effect of microgravity on iPSCs, said Dhruv Sareen, PhD, who directs stem cell production at the Regenerative Medicine Institute.

"By delaying differentiation, microgravity has the potential to enable larger and more 'pure' stable batches of stem cells to be produced," explained Sareen, assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences. "These qualities could facilitate scaled-up manufacturing of iPSCs and other derived cells for potential use in patient clinical trials and FDA-approved therapies."

The new initiative with NASA combines the stem cell expertise of Cedars-Sinai with Cedars-Sinai Precision Health, which seeks to drive the development of the newest technology and best research, coupled with the finest clinical practice, to rapidly enable a new era of personalized health.

Read more from the Cedars-Sinai Blog: What Are Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells?