Fact sheet number: FS-2002-09-153-MSFC
One of the specialized functions of the human liver is to break down drugs or toxins into less harmful and more water-soluble substances that are more easily excreted from the body. The StelSys experiment -- a joint study by NASA and Baltimore-based biotechnology research company StelSys, LLC -- will test this function of human liver cells in the microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station, comparing the results to the typical function of duplicate cells on Earth. The findings of this experiment will provide unprecedented information about the effects of microgravity on the proper function of human liver cells, offering new insight into maintaining the health of humans living and working in space.
Cells are transported from Earth to the International Space Station using the Commercial Refrigerator/Incubator Module (CRIM). Once on-orbit, the cells are nurtured and grown in the CBOSS Biotechnology Specimen Temperature Controller (BSTC), which has flown continuously aboard the International Space Station since Expedition Three. Once the cells are grown, they are frozen and stored in the ARCTIC single-locker freezer, a Space Station facility capable of lowering temperatures to -20 degrees Celsius. The frozen cells are then transported back to Earth for study.
The study is the result of a licensing agreement between NASA and StelSys to investigate new technologies for use in development of commercial medical products and services. Researchers at StelSys -- a joint venture between In Vitro Technologies, Inc., a Baltimore-based advanced science research laboratory, and Fisk Ventures, Inc., a Wisconsin-based private venture capital company -- currently are studying liver and kidney cell growth, disease and replacement, using ground-based bioreactor labs, as well as commercial NASA bioreactors. To date, the company has made great strides in developing long-term cell culture techniques, and has created a prototype of a proposed "bio-artificial" liver. StelSys research aboard the Space Station is conducted under agreement with NASA's Office of Biological and Physical Research in Washington, D.C.
Research in this area could lead to earlier and more reliable drug-candidate screening for patients in need of liver and kidney treatments prior to transplant. It could also accelerate development of new life-saving drugs by pharmaceutical companies. StelSys LLC, in cooperation with NASA, is exploring specific research areas that benefit from liver cell research aboard the Space Station. They are:
For more information on NASA's Space Station Biological Research Project, visit:
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For more information on NASA biotechnology research and other Expedition Five experiments, visit: