September 14, 2000
John Ira Petty
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
Technology developed at the Johnson Space Center in 1992 to study the effects of microgravity on cell tissue holds renewed promise for improving life on Earth following the announcement of an unprecedented private sector investment in the technology by Fisk Ventures, Inc. of Wisconsin. The announcement was made in a Washington, DC ceremony today by NASA Administrator, Daniel S. Goldin.
A rotating cell culture apparatus – known as the Bioreactor – is the centerpiece of a groundbreaking agreement with the private sector to explore a new frontier in biotechnology, focusing on infectious disease research and developing a liver-assist device for patients in need of transplant surgery. Developed by a trio of JSC researchers, Ray P. Schwarz, Tinh T. Trinh and Astronaut and physician Dave Wolf in 1992, the Bioreactor makes it possible to grow three-dimensional tissue cultures and cells that permit researchers to study their structure and develop new ways to treat disease.
“This is a great deal for the American people,” Goldin said. “It's a symbol of the success that can be achieved when government, private industry and academia work together on the exploration of new frontiers for scientific, technological and economic growth.”
JSC researchers invented the rotating Bioreactor as a way to study the impact of microgravity on cellular growth on Earth and in space. Typically, cells grown in petri dishes on Earth are flat and one-dimensional. The rotating bioreactor allows researchers to grow more accurate, three-dimensional cells – more like living cells – they can then use to test new medical treatments without risking any harm to their patients.
During several Space Shuttle flights, the Bioreactor successfully demonstrated its ability to grow three-dimensional human cells. The promise of the Bioreactor’s capabilities was dramatically illustrated when it was carried on board Russia’s Mir Space Station as part of the sixth joint Shuttle/Mir flight from September 1997 to January 1998. Astronaut Dave Wolf, a member of the team that originally developed the Bioreactor, spent 119 days on board Mir tending to the experiment which successfully cultured cartilage cells.
NASA/JSC’s continuing efforts to transfer benefits of space-related research and development to the private sector are coordinated by Johnson's Office of Technology Transfer and Commercialization.
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