Stem cells “wild ride” in space capsule

stem cells space
Engineers work on capsule. Credit: Terminal Velocity Aerospace

Stem cells took a trip near to space in a test capsule and reportedly returned alive and apparently well.

What was the story with the stem cells being tested in this way for future time in space? reports:

The RED-4U capsule was created by Terminal Velocity Aerospace (TVA) to return science experiments to Earth and carried a cargo of adult stem cells, which can grow into any cell type. The cells, provided by the Mayo Clinic, are thriving despite a parachute’s deployment issue, the company’s CEO said. The failure’s cause is being investigated, but is not related to the parachute design.

Sound pretty cool despite the parachute glitch, but what comes next is a quote in the piece from the TVA CEO that seems to either be a mistake or hype:

“There is evidence, from prior testing, that they will grow up to 10 times faster in space and have higher purity and other advantages as well.”

Ten times faster? I don’t think a ten-fold increase in adult stem cell growth is probably even possible unless the cells were unusually slow to grow in the first place. For instance, if the stem cells doubled ever two days or 48 hours normally, a ten-fold boost in growth would mean doubling every 4.8 hours. I don’t see how that’s possible given what we know about cell biology and division. Even cancer cells in general do not grow that fast.

More on this project sounds very cool though:

“The Mayo Clinic has a $300,000 grant from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to develop techniques for growing stem cells in space, but a flight date has not been announced. CASIS manages the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory.”

I hope they can get the project into space sooner rather than later and am excited to see what they learn from the experiment. There have been past trips for stem cells into space that were quite interesting and CASIS has had a funding program for this kind of research, which is great.

3 thoughts on “Stem cells “wild ride” in space capsule”

  1. I did not like the part where they said “adult stem cells can become any kind of cell”–it has always irritated me that the Defense Dept only uses adult stem cells when they should be using whatever works best.

  2. Hi Paul,
    There may be some slight sense behind the hype. Some types of adult stem cells have growth limited by contact with other cells. Perhaps it is circumventing this limitation that may underpin their otherwise seemingly bizarre comment about increased growth rates?

    I note that ultrasonic tweezers are compared to a zero-gravity environment in this study
    where it is claimed that cartilage might be better grown with the ability to spatially manipulate single cells and small clusters of cells.

    Time will tell if there is something to get excited about…

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