The Register: Stem Cells to Be Made on Orbiting Space Station to Test Microgravity Manufacturing
The Register and Gizmodo recently interviewed Arun Sharma, PhD, a stem cell biologist in the Smidt Heart Institute, and Clive Svendsen, PhD, executive director of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, to discuss the potential of growing stem cells in space.
Sharma and Svendsen are leading a first-of-its-kind effort to create pluripotent stem cells from scratch in outer space. Scientists are looking to leverage microgravity conditions aboard the International Space Station to improve stem cell production—a process that is difficult to do on Earth.
"Gravity constantly pulls these pluripotent stem cells towards Earth, putting pressure on them and providing a stimulus to start turning into other cell types," Svendsen told The Register.
Astronauts aboard the space station will conduct experiments focused on stem cell growth, division, and differentiation, Sharma told The Register.
"We are aiming to confirm earlier studies that have shown that more of these cells can be grown faster in orbit,” Sharma said. “To manufacture the cells in orbit, we will 'reprogram' skin and blood cells into stem cells, which is a process that takes a few weeks. But maybe in space this can happen more quickly or efficiently.”
The team also will insert into the cells DNA that encodes for a red fluorescent protein, which Sharma explained is a great way to visually examine the uptake of the DNA by the stem cells.
“Eventually, we would like to do more advanced experiments, such as modifying the DNA itself. But these early tests will be a foundation for those future experiments,” Sharma told The Register.
Scientists hope the mission, which is funded by NASA, yields positive results for future labs to be conducted in space.
“If successful in showing that stem cells can be grown or produced better in orbit, we may be able to scale up our production for further academic and commercial/industrial applications,” Sharma told Gizmodo.