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Fact sheet number: FS-2002-09-153-MSFC
Release date: 09/02

StelSys Liver Cell Research

Facility Components: Commercial StelSys 1 Cryodewar, Caddy; Commercial Refrigeration/Incubation Module (CRIM) and the ARCTIC single-locker freezer

Experiment Components: Cellular Biotechnology Operations Support System (CBOSS)

Mission: Expedition Five, Mission UF-2, Space Shuttle Flight STS-111, with a return of science samples on Space Station Flight 9A, STS-112 Space Shuttle mission

Experiment Location on ISS: EXPRESS Racks 1 & 4

Principal Investigator: Dr. Albert Li, Ph.D., StelSys, Inc., Baltimore, Md.

Program Management: Dr. Neal Pellis, Manager, Cellular Biotechnology Program Office, NASA Johnson Space Center, and Houston

Payload Developer: Thomas J. Goodwin, Project Manager, and NASA Johnson Center

Liver cells like these will be the subject of new research conducted aboard the International Space Station as part of Expedition Five.
Liver cells like these will be the subject of new research conducted aboard the International Space Station as part of Expedition Five. (StelSys, LLC.)

Science Overview

One of the specialized functions of the human liver is to break down drugs or toxins into less harmful and more water-soluble substances that are more easily excreted from the body. The StelSys experiment -- a joint study by NASA and Baltimore-based biotechnology research company StelSys, LLC -- will test this function of human liver cells in the microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station, comparing the results to the typical function of duplicate cells on Earth. The findings of this experiment will provide unprecedented information about the effects of microgravity on the proper function of human liver cells, offering new insight into maintaining the health of humans living and working in space.

Experiment Overview

Cells are transported from Earth to the International Space Station using the Commercial Refrigerator/Incubator Module (CRIM). Once on-orbit, the cells are nurtured and grown in the CBOSS Biotechnology Specimen Temperature Controller (BSTC), which has flown continuously aboard the International Space Station since Expedition Three. Once the cells are grown, they are frozen and stored in the ARCTIC single-locker freezer, a Space Station facility capable of lowering temperatures to -20 degrees Celsius. The frozen cells are then transported back to Earth for study.


The study is the result of a licensing agreement between NASA and StelSys to investigate new technologies for use in development of commercial medical products and services. Researchers at StelSys -- a joint venture between In Vitro Technologies, Inc., a Baltimore-based advanced science research laboratory, and Fisk Ventures, Inc., a Wisconsin-based private venture capital company -- currently are studying liver and kidney cell growth, disease and replacement, using ground-based bioreactor labs, as well as commercial NASA bioreactors. To date, the company has made great strides in developing long-term cell culture techniques, and has created a prototype of a proposed "bio-artificial" liver. StelSys research aboard the Space Station is conducted under agreement with NASA's Office of Biological and Physical Research in Washington, D.C.


Research in this area could lead to earlier and more reliable drug-candidate screening for patients in need of liver and kidney treatments prior to transplant. It could also accelerate development of new life-saving drugs by pharmaceutical companies. StelSys LLC, in cooperation with NASA, is exploring specific research areas that benefit from liver cell research aboard the Space Station. They are:

  • Development of a liver-assist device: Research based on NASA biotechnology could help develop a machine to sustain the life of a patient with advanced liver disease -- similar to dialysis machines for persons with kidney disease.
  • Natural production of the vitamin D3: Individuals on kidney dialysis require D3, which has positive effects on the immune system, helps fight various forms of cancer, and appears to be tied closely to hormones that control cellular proliferation and differentiation. Vitamin D3 remains expensive and difficult to properly manufacture, however. StelSys seeks an alternative method of producing D3 via cultured kidney cells.
  • Natural production of metabolites: StelSys is researching metabolites, or chemical by-products formed by the breakdown of parent compounds. Studies show that metabolites can help speed up drug screenings by pharmaceutical companies, which accelerates development of new drugs.

Additional Information

For more information on NASA's Space Station Biological Research Project, visit:

For more information about CBOSS components, visit:

For more information on NASA biotechnology research and other Expedition Five experiments, visit:

Steve Roy
Public Affairs Office
(256) 544-0034

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