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July 15, 1999

John Bluck

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

650/604-5026 or 604-9000



A tiny chemical lab, no bigger than a deck of cards, may evolve from a biology sensors device to fly on board the Space Shuttle Columbia when it thunders into orbit July 20.

During the STS-93 space flight, Biona-C's sensors will monitor acid levels in a cell culture carried on the Space Shuttle. By combining Biona-C with computer electronics, pumps and valves, scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, are working toward the eventual development of a tiny, automated chemical laboratory.

"Project by project, we are making miniaturized parts that will comprise a portable chemistry lab no bigger than a shoebox or a deck of cards -- and maybe even smaller," said Dr. Carsten Mundt, an electrical engineer in the Ames Sensors 2000! program office. "One of our goals is to build smaller and smaller sensors able to make various kinds of physiological, chemical and biological measurements."

During the flight, fluid will run through Biona-C's tubes and across multiple sensors while nourishing the cells. The tubes containing the sensors are mounted on an electronics board to save space. "In our efforts to make a tiny chemical lab, we must put computers, electronics and traditional laboratory hardware into a small package, and we must integrate the parts in new, innovative ways," said Charlie Friedericks, Ames' Biona-C project engineer.

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The Biona-C sensors are part of a `rail' that assists cell growth during space flights. The 12-inch-long rail controls the fluid flow and temperature of the bioreactor cartridges that contain the cells. The Biona-C rail is one of three that will be enclosed in a Cell Culture Module inside a locker in the Space Shuttle's mid-deck.

Scientists in Ames' Sensors 2000! group developed Biona-C in cooperation with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Silver Spring, MD. In November 1997, scientists at Ames and Walter Reed outlined requirements for the instrument package in the Cell Culture Module aboard STS-93 designed to measure pH in cell cultures.

The first Biona-C sensors were used in a prototype artificial liver research program to measure concentrations of calcium ions, Ca2+, in flowing blood plasmas in a custom instrument called the `Blood Flow Ion Analyzer' or Biona. Ames' scientists modified the sensors to measure pH in the STS-93 Cell Culture module.

In collaboration with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA, Ames scientists are continuing to develop sensors and measurement systems for use with an experimental bio-artificial liver under development by private industry and targeted for use by patients awaiting transplants. Doctors at Cedars-Sinai use the sensor to monitor calcium in the external plasma flow and to help control constituent plasma elements.

"The unique integration of fluidics and electronics allows us to have a very-sensitive, low-noise unit that is modular," said John Hines, Ames' Sensors 2000! program manager. "Making smaller 'building-block' modular units will enable us to construct tiny, portable chemistry labs."

In another collaborative project with the Fetal Treatment Center at the University of California, San Francisco, scientists are developing a "pH pill transmitter." This device must be miniaturized and implantable in a woman's womb for up to several months to monitor the condition of her fetus. The pill transmitter will be 10mm in diameter and 35mm long.

Further information can be obtained at the Sensors 2000! program Internet URL:



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