Fact sheet number: FS-2001-12-195-MSFC
NASA's biotechnology cell science research aboard the International Space Station is intended to provide controlled cultivation of cells into healthy, three-dimensional tissues that retain the form and function of natural, living tissue.
Studying normal growth and replication of human cell tissue outside living organisms is difficult, because most cells cultivated outside the body form flat, thin specimens that limit insight into the way cells work together.
However, cells grown in microgravity -- the low-gravity environment inside spacecraft orbiting the Earth -- much more closely resemble those found in our bodies here on Earth. Bioreactor-based cell growth in microgravity permits cultivation of in vitro tissue cultures of sizes and quality not possible on Earth. Such a capability provides unprecedented opportunities for breakthrough research in the study of human diseases, including various types of cancer and heart disease.
The following experiments -- cultured in NASA's Cellular Biotechnology Operations Support System (CBOSS) -- are under investigation on orbit as part of Expedition Four.
"Renal Cell Differentiation and Hormone Production from Human Renal Cortical Cells" (Principal Investigator: Dr. Timothy Hammond, Tulane University Medical Center, New Orleans)
On STS-90, the Space Shuttle's "Neurolab" mission which flew in March 1998, human renal cortical cells were flown for the first time, with subsequent genetic analysis performed after return to Earth. As a consequence, significant data was uncovered regarding the molecular genetic expression of human cells in microgravity and their ability to be manipulated to produce valuable renal hormones.
Continued studies in microgravity are expected to reveal additional information regarding the mechanisms involved in these genetic manipulations and responses. The primary goals of these experiments will be:
"Growth Factor Receptor Function and Cell Differentiation in a Low-Shear Environment" (Principal Investigator: Dr. Arthur J. Sytkowski, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Mass.)
The EMS-3 cell line was originally derived from laboratory mice infected with the Rauscher virus -- a "murine" or rodent-borne virus that causes erythroleukemia, a form of leukemia spawned in oxygen-carrying red blood cells. During space flight, both humans and experimental animals have shown changes in a number of physiological systems, including the immune system and the hematopoietic system -- which includes the bloodstream and bone marrow. Significant loss in immune system responsiveness and mild to moderate anemia also have been observed in test subjects.
There is significant evidence that the microgravity environment contributes in some manner to these hematopoietic changes. EMS-3 cells will be cultured in the Cellular Biotechnology Operations Support System and exposed to inducers of erythropoiesis, or the creation of red blood cells. EMS-3 responsiveness during on-orbit testing will be compared to data from previous, ground-based bioreactor experiments to determine whether microgravity in fact reduces the action of erythropoietin in inducing erythroid cell differentiation. Data from these experiments will improve our knowledge of effects of microgravity on the hematopoietic system and suggest possible in-flight countermeasures as well as treatments for ground-based diseases.
"Microgravity Antigen Synthesis in Tonsular B Cells" (Principal Investigator: Dr. Joshua Zimmerberg, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.)
The purpose of these on-orbit experiments will be to further clarify the mechanisms involved in the generation of and synthesis of antigen responses in tonsular B cells, which are housed in the lymph nodes and are responsible for the generation of antibodies to fight infection and disease. Preliminary experiments conducted in ground-based bioreactors have indicated never-before-known mechanisms in regard to viral infection in these tissues. Continued studies in actual microgravity are the next logical step to pursuing a true understanding of the mechanisms involved. Tissues used for the studies include human lymphoid and human tonsil tissue.
See CBOSS Expedition Three fact sheet:
Expedition Three Results
The Space Station crew began setup and activation of the Biotechnology Specimen Temperature Controller on Aug. 22, 2001. By Aug. 27, the first eight completed cultures were preserved and placed in the Biotechnology Refrigerator for storage. All culture growth was completed by Sept. 4, and samples are scheduled to be returned to Earth on the flight of STS-108, which will also deliver new cell samples for the above-mentioned experiments to the Station.
Benefits of Cellular Biotechnology
Cellular Biotechnology research conducted by NASA, its science investigators, and commercial partners has potential benefits and applications:
More information on NASA biotechnology research and other Expedition Four experiments is available at: