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.
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.
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.
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?