Study on the Development of Methods to Produce Artificial Cartilage (Chondro) - 05.13.15

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Science Results for Everyone
Microgravity causes bone loss, but may help cartilage growth. Scientists are developing artificial cartilage for implantation in humans, but gravity disturbs its formation. This investigation compared cartilage tissue cultured in normal gravity, simulated microgravity, and actual microgravity to see whether simulated microgravity offers benefits comparable to space microgravity. Although the data indicated that simulated and real microgravity growth are not equal, simulation did produce similar structural features and cellular spacing, which makes it a useful method for producing collagen for implants. This was the first space flight experiment to compare cartilage formation from the same cell source in different microgravity environments.

The following content was provided by Vlada Stamenkovic, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Information provided courtesy of the Erasmus Experiment Archive.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Vlada Stamenkovic, Space Biology Institute, Zurich, Switzerland

Georg Keller, Space Biology Institute, Zurich, Switzerland

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Space Biology, Zurich, Switzerland
University of Bern, Osteoarticular Research Group, Bern, Switzerland

Sponsoring Space Agency
European Space Agency (ESA)

Sponsoring Organization
Information Pending

Research Benefits
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ISS Expedition Duration
April 2003 - April 2004

Expeditions Assigned

Previous ISS Missions
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Experiment Description

Research Overview
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People all over the Earth are suffering from cartilage problems. Modern medicine is trying to develop methods to artificially produce cartilage so that it can be used for implantation in humans. The influence of gravity however, disturbs the process of cartilage structure formation, due to sedimentation, in such a way that the structure does not satisfy completely the needs of today's medicine. The objective of the microgravity experiment is to find a more stable cartilage structure and to test the experiment hardware.

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Space Applications
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Earth Applications
The Chondro investigations will help improve medical treatment of cartilage injuries and provide insight into cartilage implants for medical use.

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Operational Requirements
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Operational Protocols
Cartilage tissue is extracted from the patient (for the purpose of our experiment we will use cartilage tissue from pig bones) and a special enzyme called Protease is added to dissolve it into its basic components, the Chondrocytes. In the next step these Chondrocytes are cultivated in such a way that they reproduce without forming any structure. The last step is based on redifferentiation of the Chondrocytes into new cartilage tissue. The Chondrocytes will grow in a 2-D structure due to sedimentation under the influence of gravity. The basic idea of the space experiment is to eliminate sedimentation by exposing the Chondrocytes to microgravity and thus achieve a 3-dimensional symmetrical growth.

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Results/More Information

Systems such as the rotating wall vessel and the random positioning machine (RPM) have been used to simulate microgravity and create cartilage, but neocartilage (in vitro-cultured cartilage grafts made from human chondrocytes) cultivated on an RPM shows a much more regular distribution of cells in a cartilage matrix than the structures produced under normal conditions without a supporting scaffold. Although microgravity has some negative aspects related to the development of cartilage, the cell distribution with potentially fewer starting cells would be a benefit to the production of cartilage grafts. The aim of the Chondro investigation is to compare the cartilage tissue cultured in normal gravity (1 g), RPM simulated microgravity, and actual microgravity environments to validate whether Earth-based simulated microgravity systems are comparable to space microgravity.

Cartilage from the hip joint of a pig was harvested, counted, and placed into nine bioreactor chambers in culture chambers (CC). All CCs were placed on the RPM for 36 hours, then two were transported to the International Space Station (ISS), three were mounted on the RPM, and three were normal gravity controls. All cartilage produced was soft, especially the tissue produced on ISS. Neocartilage formed in normal gravity was continuous in shape and form, while both the RPM and the ISS tissues were irregular. Although the ISS-produced cartilage had weaker extracellular matrix stains, it had higher gene expression levels of collagen type II/type I, which was comparable to normal cartilage. RPM- produced cartilage had the highest reduction in cell density, which in turn increased cell spacing. Although the data indicated the RPM system was not equivalent to real microgravity, the system did produce structural features and cellular spacing similar to ISS results, making it a viable tool for producing prefabricated collagen implants with fewer cells and without a scaffold. In addition, this was the first time a biological space flight experiment compared neocartilage formation in 1 g, simulated microgravity, and microgravity environments from the same cell source (Stamenković et al. 2004, Stamenković et al. 2010).

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Results Publications

    Stamenkovic V, Keller G, Nesic D, Cogoli A, Grogan SP.  Neocartilage Formation in 1g, Simulated, and Microgravity Environments: Implications for Tissue Engineering. Tissue Engineering Part A. 2010; 16(5): 1729-1736. DOI: 10.1089/ten.tea.2008.0624.

    Stamenkovic V, Keller G, Cogoli A, Grogan SP.  Neo-Cartilage Formation In Microgravity Environment. 55th International Astronautical Congress, Vancouver, Canada; 2004 1-6.

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

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Related Websites
ETH Zurich's Weekly Web Journal - Ten days on low-gravity environment
ESA Erasmus Experiment Archive

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image Cell Cultivation System flown on ISS during Expedition 7. Image courtesy of Space Biology Institute, ESA.
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