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Stem Cells in Space

Image of space with test tubeIn a new spin on the space race, researchers at Emory School of Medicine and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta are attempting to grow cardiac cells more quickly in low-gravity conditions.

The researchers have been using space-simulation machines to enhance the ability of stem cells to turn into cardiac cells. Now they—or the cells they’ve carefully cultured, at least—will get the chance to transform on the International Space Station.

Pediatrician Chunhui Xu, pediatric cardiologist Kevin Maher, research associate Rajneesh Jha, and colleagues were awarded a two-year grant from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, which manages the International Space Station’s U.S. National Laboratory.

Pluripotent stem cells, or “master” cells, can be derived from human adult skin or blood cells. Stem-cell-derived cardiac muscle cells have been used to treat heart failure in animal models. They’ve also been used to study inherited cardiac diseases in the lab.

On Earth, Jha uses a “random positioning machine” that mimics the microgravity conditions found in space. The machine periodically shifts cells so they never get used to one direction being down, which has produced five times the previous amount of cardiac muscle cells. The results were published in Scientific Reports in August 2016.

For the actual microgravity experiments on the space station, the cells will be loaded into an automated incubator device approved for use in spaceflight.

Related Story

"Space station will host stem cells for heart research" (Oct. 31, 2017)

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