Stem cell investigations directed by scientists at Texas A&M University and Loma Linda University in California scheduled to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) next year were highlighted and discussed at the World Stem Cell Summit in San Diego last week.
Lee Hood, a member of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) Board of Directors, moderated a panel session on December 6 in which scientists Dr. Roland Kaunas PhD of TAMU and Dr. Mary Kearns-Jonker, PhD of LLU’s Anatomy School of Medicine discussed their planned research, scheduled to fly to the space station next year, which will gauge the impact of microgravity on fundamental stem cell properties. NASA and CASIS are enabling research aboard the ISS that the researchers say could lead to new stem cell-based therapies for medical conditions faced on Earth and in space. The scientists will take advantage of the space station’s microgravity environment to study the properties of non-embryonic stem cells.
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NASA is particularly interested in space-based cell researchas it seeks ways to combat the negative health effects astronauts face in microgravity, including bone loss and muscle atrophy. The space agency notes in a release that mitigation techniques are necessary to allow humans to push the boundaries of space exploration far into the solar system. This knowledge could also help people on Earth, particularly the elderly, who are often afflicted with similar conditions.
Stem cells are cells that have not yet become specialized in their functions, and which display a remarkable ability to give rise to a spectrum of cell types and to ensure life-long tissue rejuvenation and regeneration. Experiments on Earth and in space have shown that microgravity induces changes in the way stem cells grow, divide and specialize. Stem cell biology in microgravity could inform fields ranging from discovery science to tissue engineering to regenerative medicine.
Dr. Kaunas, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University, is a part of a team of researchers developing a system for co-culturing and analyzing stem cells mixed with bone tumor cells in microgravity. This system will allow researchers to identify potential molecular targets for drugs specific to certain types of cancer. Dr. Kaunas’s laboratory focuses on determining how stresses and strains are generated in cells in response to mechanical stimuli such as tensile stretch and fluid shear stress, and how these mechanical signals are transduced into intracellular signals leading to changes in cell behavior. Past and current projects include studies on the role of cytoskeletal organization on mechanotransduction, the effects of flow on angiogenesis and lymphatic function, and the development of mechanosensitive engineered tissues.
Dr. Kearns-Jonker is an Associate Professor at LLU’s Pathology and Human Anatomy School of Medicine. Her research will study the aging of neonatal and adult cardiac stem cells in microgravity with the ultimate goal of improving cardiac cell therapy. She notes on her LLU page that an increasing shortage of donor organs for transplantation has led to consideration of alternative solutions for patients with end-stage organ failure, and stem cell transplantation and xenotransplantation represent two potential solutions to that problem.
The Kearns-Jonker laboratory is interested in developing methods to block the immune response that currently prevents pig organs from being used for transplantation into humans when allografts from human donors are unavailable. The lab’s research is focused on defining the genetic structure of the antibodies that initiate the rejection of these grafts and in developing small molecules to prevent xenoantibody-mediated rejection. In addition, they study the application of cardiomyocytes differentiated from human embryonic stem cells and endogenous cardiac stem cells for myocardial repair, and are are interested in the immunobiology of differentiated cardiomyocytes from various sources and in understanding the early gene expression changes that impact the survival of these cells after transplantation in vivo.
In 2011, NASA selected CASIS to be sole manager of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory tasked with maximizing use of the ISS’s U.S. National Laboratory through 2020, and the responsibility of inciting the imagination of entrepreneurs and scientists alike, accelerating and facilitating space-based research as well as creating public awareness of National Lab research and making space science more accessible to the world.
CASIS’s mission is to support and accelerate innovations and new discoveries that will enhance the health and wellbeing of people and our planet. Research onboard the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory offers an unparalleled opportunity to understand how gravity influences physical and life sciences — exploiting these effects to understand basic phenomena and advance commercial pursuits, and helping scientists to transform their research into flight-ready experiments that will be launched and delivered directly to the National Lab and can yield previously unattainable results.
By carefully selecting research and funding projects, by connecting investors looking for opportunity to scientists with great ideas, and by making access to the station faster and easier, and creating projects and curricula to teach and inspire students across the country, CASIS is uniquely positioned to facilitate and expedite access to the National Lab, leveraging the experience and knowledge of the CASIS team to ensure that researchers, principal investigators, and private commercial entities alike are afforded the most efficient pathway to flight, and driving scientific inquiry toward developing groundbreaking new technologies and products that will tangibly affect our lives
To accomplish these goals, CASIS has several tools, resources and capabilities at its disposal.
For more about CASIS see:
For more information about the International Space Station, visit:
Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS)
Texas A&M University
Loma Linda University
Texas A&M University
Loma Linda University