National Laboratory Pathfinder - Cells (NLP-Cells) - 09.17.14
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National Lab Pathfinder - Cells (NLP-Cells) comprises two experiments conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). One experiment will assesses the effects of space flight on cellular replication and differentiation in cattle cells. The other experiment examines the effects of space flight on the normal differentiation and function of liver cells and bile duct (opens into the small intestine from the liver) epithelium (lining).
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Space doesn’t appear to affect the ability of liver cells to differentiate into either monolayers or bile duct cells. This suggests that liver cells cultured in space have no new, unique characteristics that might make them useful for biotechnology applications. Some genes expressed differently in space-cultured cells, but cells grew and differentiated normally. No apparent differences were seen in production of urea in response to added ammonia or in enzyme activities, and cell nature was not obviously changed in space. More observations and different types of cell culture platforms are needed for additional statistical analyses before reaching final conclusions.
United States Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, MD, United States
University of Colorado at Boulder, BioServe Space Technologies, Boulder, CO, United States
Zero Gravity Incorporated, Stevensville, MD, United States
Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
National Laboratory - U.S. Department of Agriculture (NL-USDA)
ISS Expedition Duration
October 2008 - April 2009
Previous ISS Missions
The NLP-Cells investigation has not been performed in microgravity previously.
National Lab Pathfinder - Cells (NLP-Cells) is an investigation sponsored by Zero Gravity Incorporated (ZGI), one of the two companies to have signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA under the ISS National Lab. ZGI is working in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct this investigation aimed at understanding the effects of microgravity on living systems.
This investigation comprises two experiments, one examines the affects of space flight on bovine (cattle) zygotes (resulting from the union of a sperm and egg). The other experiment determines the effects of microgravity on hepatocytes (liver cells) and bile duct (opens into the small intestine from the liver) epithelium (lining).
National Lab Pathfinder - Cells (NLP-Cells) consists of two experiments conducted by Zero Gravity Incorporated in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The first experiment assesses the effects of space flight on cattle (bovine) zygotes (resulting from the union of a sperm and egg). The gene expression of the bovine zygotes is assayed following short-duration (less than 20-days) space flight. Morphological observations and cell culture methodologies are used postflight to test for the continuous culture of any bovine cells that form and grow as a result of exposure to space flight.
The second experiment examines the effects of the space flight on the normal differentiation and function of hepatocytes (liver cells) and bile duct epithelium, the two main parenchymal cell types of the liver. Cell cultures of the ARS-PICM-19 (swine liver cells) are assayed for normal growth and differentiation following a short-duration space flight.
This investigation is a part of a series of investigations conducted on board the ISS to provide the foundation for use of the ISS as a National Laboratory following assembly complete.
The long-term goal of this project is to enhance the ability to introduce new genetic information into cells and to examine the effects of space flight on the normal differentiation and function of hepatocytes and bile duct epithelium.
NLP-Cells are monitored through the BioServe Payload Operations and Control Center at the University of Colorado - Boulder. The space flight samples are returned to Earth for analysis.
This research flies within a Fluid Processing Apparatus (FPA) and Group Activation Pack (GAP) hardware. Each experiment utilizes four of BioServe's GAPs each of which holds 8 FPAs. The GAPs will be located inside the CGBA which maintains the samples at 37 degrees C for the duration of the experiment. A time course study is conducted where different samples are grown for varying time frames. All samples are fixed while in orbit and brought back to Earth for analysis.
NLP-Cells assessed the effects of space flight on the liver’s characteristic cells to differentiate into either monolayers of liver cells or cells lining the vessels that carry bile. In comparing flight vs. ground control cultures, no differences were found between the cultures with the exception being that some genes were differentially expressed. By light microscopy both young and older cultures, flight and ground, had grown and differentiated normally in the Opticell culture vessels. The PICM-19 cells grew to approximately 75% confluency (coverage of the petri dish), with few signs of cell death. The cells differentiated into either monolayer patches of liver cells with bile ducts visible between the cells or into three-dimensional bile ducts with well-defined lumens, the inside space of a tubular structure. Structural features between flight and ground samples were similar with PICM-19 cells. Flight PICM-19 cells produced more urea in response to added ammonia, although there was no apparent difference when compared to the ground control culture samples. The enzyme activities investigated were also found to be similar between ground and flight samples.
Researchers noted the nature of the PICM-19 cells was not obviously changed by exposure to the space environment. However, the study’s results should be viewed as preliminary because a greater number of observations are needed for additional statistical analyses. Also, different types of cell culture platforms other than the one used in this study (3-dimensional spheroid culture vs. 2-dimensional culture) might be tested.. Finally in neither the immediately assayed PICM-19 cells nor the PICM-19 cells continuously cultured postflight did there appear to be any new unique cellular characteristics, permanent or transient, that would enhance their utility for biotechnological purposes, such as their use in an artificial liver support device (Talbot 2010).
Talbot NC, Caperna TJ, Blomberg L, Graninger PG, Stodieck LS. The effects of space flight and microgravity on the growth and differentiation of PICM-19 pig liver stem cells. In Vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology - Animal. 2010 March 24; 46(6): 502-515.
Ground Based Results Publications
BioServe Space Technologies
This image shows the Group Activation Packs (GAPs) that housed the specimens for NLP-Cells-1 for their on-orbit operations. Image courtesy of BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO.
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In this image shows the Group Activation Packs (GAPs) placed into the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGBA) which provides environmental controls from cold stowage to incubation temperatures. Image courtesy of BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO.
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