Stem Cells in Space

CubeLabs on the International Space Station. credit Twyman Clements
CubeLabs on the International Space Station. credit Twyman Clements

By Jeanne Loring

Stem cells boldly go…

Last week at the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) conference at Rockefeller University in New York City, we announced our collaborative project to study the effects of microgravity on neurons derived from patient-specific induced pluripotent stem cells.  The press release is here.

The organizational team: Jana Stoudemire (Space Tango), Paula Grisanti (National Stem Cell Foundation), Jenifer Raub (Summit for Stem Cell Foundation)
The organizational team: Jana Stoudemire (Space Tango), Paula Grisanti (National Stem Cell Foundation), Jenifer Raub (Summit for Stem Cell Foundation), photo credit Jeanne Loring.
Scott Noggle of NYSCF showing a picture of the combined microglia and neurons in red and green at the NYSCF meeting.
Scott Noggle of NYSCF showing a picture of the combined microglia and neurons in red and green at the NYSCF meeting. Photo credit Jeanne Loring.

Susan Solomon, the CEO of NYSCF, announced the unprecedented collaboration:  NYSCF and San Diego’s Summit for Stem Foundation (Summit) are providing the cells and designing the experiment. Space Tango, based in Kentucky, developed the technology to perform experiments on the International Space Station (ISS).  The National Stem Cell Foundation brought together the collaborators and the funding for the project. The organizational team includes Solomon (NYSCF), Jana Stoudemire (Space Tango), Paula Grisanti (National Stem Cell Foundation), and Jenifer Raub (Summit).

We spent a lot of time figuring out what we could do using the materials and skills available to us.  These discussions themselves were unprecedented, because East coast stem cell centers rarely collaborate with California stem cell centers.

The scientists Valentina Fossi (NYSCF), Andres Bratt-Leal (Summit) and Jeanne Loring
The scientists: Valentina Fossi (NYSCF), Andres Bratt-Leal (Summit) and Jeanne Loring.

We decided that we could use this opportunity to study neuroinflammation in Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.  Andres Bratt-Leal and his team at Summit made organoid-like spheres from dopamine neurons derived from iPSCs from people with Parkinson’s disease and cortical neurons from MS patients.  Valentina Fossati and her group from NYSCF made microglia, the brain’s immune cells, from the same cell lines.  In our preliminary investigations, we’ve shown that the microglia migrate into neural organoids.  At the conference, NYSCF scientist Scott Noggle showed a picture of the combined cells.

The scientists at Space Tango (Twyman Clements) have designed a special culture dish and associated pumps to keep the cells happy and well fed while they are in space. The experiment fits into a box, called a CubeLab.

CubeLabs on the International Space Station. credit Twyman Clements
CubeLabs on the International Space Station. Credit Twyman Clements.

Our cells will not be the first to orbit, but they will be the first cells in space that are derived from iPSCs from patients with neurodegenerative disease.

We’ve been using FedEx to ship our cells 3,000 miles between the East and West coasts.

To get them the further 254 miles, up to the ISS, a rocket will be necessary.  At this time, the launch is planned for a SpaceX flight in December.  Weather and the ISS’s supply needs will determine exactly when our cells go on board.  No matter when it is, I plan to be there to watch the rocket launch with our cells aboard.

Many of you will probably want to ask why we are doing this.  Rather than tell you my reasons, I’d like to ask readers: why put stem cells into space?

6 Comments


  1. The obvious 1st answer is to see how they work (if they work…) in space. For long distance human space travel we need a lot of data, otherwise we may have a lot of sick/dead astronauts. The 2nd answer is to see the effects of micro-gravity (or more to the point lack of overall gravity on cells). If we are to eventually move beyond Earth, knowing how cells, and stem cells, work and develop in space will be critical.


  2. Stem cells in space is all very interesting, but will you please, please, PLEASE, PLEASE!!! write a post about Astellas’s investment in a new R and D facility in the [email protected]!!?!?? (okay, that’s enough bad punctuation.) But seriously. Please. Here’s a quote from the article: “The biggest chunk of change will be spent on relocating and building a new R&D facility in Westborough, Massachusetts, about 10 miles down the road from its current facility in Marlborough. Astellas is outfitting a two-story, 24,000-square-foot facility that will be upgraded to allow it to accelerate its R&D in regenerative medicine and cell therapy, it said. It will also be designed to allow Astellas “to meet the demands of commercial production.” Work began in September and is slated for completion during January 2020.” https://www.fiercepharma.com/manufacturing/astellas-jumps-into-gene-and-cell-therapy-production-255-million-investment

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