Release date: 02/02
The overall goal of the research conducted in the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGBA) is to develop commercial uses of the unique environment encountered in space -- primarily that of microgravity, or near-weightlessness -- in the field of life sciences. The CGBA hardware is able to support many standard biological laboratory techniques that have been adapted to operate in space.
The experiments are designed to further our understanding of how gravity influences various biophysical and biochemical actions. Applications of this knowledge are geared toward creating or improving various biologically derived products or enhancing the processes used to create them. The industry-sponsored investigations supported by CGBA essentially focus on how the space environment can be used as a "tool" that will provide a "value-added" factor to a commercial product, process or service. Space flight offers a novel test bed for researching and developing the new technologies and products, but the ultimate benefits are targeted toward markets on Earth.
The research goals of the biotechnology experiment inside the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus on Expedition Four are to characterize the effects of long-term exposure to weightlessness on the process of fermentation, used in the production of antibiotics. Antibiotic compounds are naturally produced by microorganisms and can be used to fight a variety of infections.
This experiment will examine bacterial growth processes used to produce actinomycin D. This class of antibiotics is used to treat certain types of cancer.
Early research dating back to the 1960s indicated that microorganisms tended to grow better in space. In late 1995, BioServe, a NASA Commercial Space Center, located at the University of Colorado-Boulder, began conducting research to explore possible applications of this phenomenon. BioServe collaborated with Bristol-Myers Squibb, a pharmaceutical company with headquarters in New York on this research.
Results from three Space Shuttle experiments conducted to date suggest that space flight has a stimulating effect on microbial antibiotic production, with increases in specific productivity of up to 200 percent observed relative to matched ground controls. In some instances, the flight samples had not yet even reached peak production rates by the end of the mission. Space flight pharmaceutical research such as this introduces the possibility for obtaining insight into the physical factors that control biological processes by minimizing some of the effects of gravity from the cell and its environment.
Until the International Space Station became operational, research on this phenomenon had been limited to short-duration flights onboard a Space Shuttle. The objective of the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus (CGBA) experiment during Expedition Four is to determine if these stimulating effects continue to change over time as the exposure to space is increased from under two weeks to more than two months. A secondary objective is to assess whether the organisms adapt to the weightless environment, and if so, if any potentially beneficial changes in the antibiotic compound structure might occur as a consequence.
A fully integrated CGBA is housed in a single locker on the Space Station's U.S. Lab "Destiny" Express Rack 4. A new space flight fermentation device has been incorporated into CGBA for Expedition Four to allow the microbial cell cultures to be fed, waste removed and byproducts periodically sampled throughout the mission.
The hardware status onboard the Space Station can be monitored and controlled from the ground at BioServe's Remote Payload Operations Control Center in Boulder, Colo. Crew interaction is limited to transferring the CGBA locker to the Space Station from the Shuttle, reconnecting the power, then periodically performing status checks and cleaning the air inlet during the mission.
The CGBA payload will be delivered to the International Space Station for the Expedition Four, ISS Mission 8A by the STS-110 Shuttle crew, with launch scheduled for April 2002. Transfer of the payload to the Space Station is scheduled for Flight Day 7 of the STS-110 mission. It will be returned to Earth approximately two months later on STS-111. c
The Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus is a commercial payload sponsored by NASA's Space Product Development Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. BioServe Space Technologies designed, built and manages the apparatus. BioServe is a NASA Commercial Space Center jointly located within the Aerospace Engineering Sciences Department at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and the Division of Biology at Kansas State University in Manhattan. Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute in Wallingford, Conn. is BioServe's sponsoring commercial partner for this research.
Since 1991, BioServe has flown a variety of payloads in space on 19 missions - 16 Shuttle flights, twice onboard the Russian space station Mir and once on the International Space Station - for a cumulative total of 414 days in orbit. The CGBA has flown on 15 of these flights.
The antibiotic production experiment was flown on International Space Station Expedition Two in the spring of 2001, but was unfortunately terminated after software that operated the experiment failed to work properly. BioServe engineers evaluated the returned payload and identified the problem. Changes were made to the software and tested to ensure successful operation on Expedition Four.
A summary of BioServe's flight history can be viewed at:
Gaining a better understanding of what is causing the stimulated production of antibiotics in space is helping scientists to design experiments that attempt to mimic this increase in productivity on Earth. These experimental techniques may lead to development of methods for improving production efficiency in terrestrial pharmaceutical processing facilities. If even a small increase in the operational efficiency of Earth-based antibiotic production is made possible as a result of the knowledge gained from space, the economic gain could be substantia.
Additional information on Expedition Four and this experiment can be found at: