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Encapsulation Technology for Delivery of Medical Therapeutics

Principal Investigator: David J. Loftus, M.D., Ph.D.

The fastest growing area of medical therapeutics development is the field of peptide and protein therapeutics. For treatment of space radiation illness, a novel approach would be to implant cells in the body that are pre-programmed to deliver agents in response to radiation, such as a solar particle event. This approach would provide more rapid response to the radiation threat, and a more physiological dosing, for more effective treatment. Commonly, protein and peptide therapeutic agents have limited shelf-life (1-2 years); implantation technology gets around this issue for long-duration space travel (3+ years). To realize the vision of cell implantation to produce therapeutic proteins, technology for encapsulation of the cells is key: to prevent rejection of the cells by the host immune system, and to allow release of therapeutic agents from the capsule. Porous carbon meshwork technology, developed at NASA Ames, may provide a method for successful encapsulation of cells that secrete therapeutic proteins, that meets the medical needs of long-duration space flight.

In this study we will perform key proof of concept tests of a novel cell encapsulation technology that could be used for delivery of protein and peptide therapeutic agents for space medicine applications. The ARC-developed technology uses porous carbon meshwork capsules to contain cells and to serve as an “immune shield” to prevent the cells from being rejected by the host immune system. The pores of the capsule allow the therapeutic agents to be released from the capsule. The encapsulation concept is a key enabling technology for a wide range of Synthetic Biology applications where compartmentalization of the engineered cells is needed.

This project will open up a whole new approach for delivery of protein therapeutic agents, a field that has been stymied for many years by lack of a suitable encapsulation material. Success will also mean a significant advancement of NASA’s vision of technology for autonomous medical care on long-duration space flight. Initially, the primary impact will be in the area of medical care for treatment of space radiation illness, the #1 area of health concern for long-duration space flight. Ultimately, however, we view this as a platform technology. We expect that the encapsulation technology will be able to accommodate new peptide and protein therapeutic agents that will be developed in the future. More broadly speaking, we view the encapsulation technology as an “enabling technology” for the field of Synthetic Biology, because it provides a generic platform that can be used for a wide range of applications where the compartmentalization of engineered cells is needed.