Microflow 1 technology demonstration (Microflow1) - 09.05.18

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
The Microflow 1 technology demonstration (Microflow1) investigation provides the first performance test of a miniaturized flow cytometer in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station (ISS). Flow cytometry is a technique that focuses fluids (blood or other body fluids) into a controlled stream that enables researchers to quantify the components and monitor physiological and cellular activity. The goal of this testing in microgravity is the development of a smaller and safer operational instrument that may be certified for real-time medical care and monitoring during space flight.
Science Results for Everyone
Honey, I shrunk the flow cytometer! Flow cytometry is a technique that focuses blood or other body fluids, allowing medical measurements such as white blood cell counts. These instruments typically are large and complex, so much smaller versions are needed for use in space. This investigation tested a miniature flow cytometer, and results confirm that the technology could be developed into an on-orbit platform for real-time medical monitoring. The successful demonstration is the first step toward use of the mini-cytometer for real-time medical care of crewmembers and will contribute to research and Earth-based health care delivery, especially in remote areas.

The following content was provided by Luchino Cohen, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Luchino Cohen, Ph.D., Canadian Space Agency, St-Hubert, Quebec, Canada

Information Pending

INO (Institut National d'Optique), Quebec, Canada

Sponsoring Space Agency
Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

Sponsoring Organization
Information Pending

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2012 - September 2013

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • ISS has limited capacity to monitor physiological and cellular responses, because of the size and complexity of the equipment typically used in Earth laboratories. Specific ISS medical requirements such as blood cell counts cannot be implemented with the current ISS instrumentation.

  • The purpose of this project is to miniaturize and simplify the technology for space qualification, build flight units and assess the MicroFlow1 performance in a relevant space environment, i.e. the ISS. The tests will evaluate performance of the Microflow1 unit using calibration beads, quantify molecular concentration in a biological fluid sample, and perform blood cell count on-orbit .

  • A successful demonstration of the Microflow1 platform can become the first step into providing future capacity to perform real-time medical care of crewmembers, as well as an essential tool for research in physiology and biology.

Ground laboratory cellular and molecular biology methods now permit the monitoring of physiological and cellular responses with a very high sensitivity. However the equipment currently present on the ISS does not include such technologies due to instrument size and complexity. CSA and the Biophotonics division at the Institut National d’Optique (INO, Quebec City)have developed an innovative platform as a basis for the development of a compact, low cost and portable flow cytometer. If instruments such as a miniaturized flow cytometer were available on the ISS, it would be a giant leap in our capacity to perform in situ molecular analyses for space life science as well as medical monitoring, reducing the need to return biological and medical samples to Earth. Study of the impact of the space environment on human and animal physiology will be highly accelerated by facilities such as an on-board flow cytometer. This technology can become a valuable tool for research in physiology, biology and for real-time medical care of crewmembers. The purpose of this project is to redesign the micro-flow cytometer for space qualification, building of flight units and assessment of Microflow performance in a relevant space environment, i.e. the ISS. Following the design, construction and certification of a Microflow1 flight unit, performance of a commercial flow cytometer and Microflow1 on the ground and on the ISS will be compared. The Microflow1 platform will be tested in parabolic flight before preparation for launch on the ISS.

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Space Applications
During space missions in low Earth Orbit or beyond, several situations could lead to a medical emergency. It will be critical to quickly determine whether evacuation is required or not, when possible. The Crew Medical Officer will need accurate real-time clinical data based on molecular diagnostics as it is currently the case on Earth. Availability of a micro-flow cytometer on board could support amongst others the following in situ analysis from a small blood volume:

  • Infection: rapid viral or bacterial identification, blood cell count.

  • Anaphylaxis: assessment of tryptase blood levels.

  • Liver function/poisoning: test for hepatic enzymes (bilirubin…) and blood cell count

  • Radiation exposure: blood radiation biomarkers, karyotype (chromosomal aberrations)

  • Renal stones: blood cells in urine

  • Myocardial infarction: rapid test based on troponin blood levels
Furthermore, our capacity to understand and manage physiological adaptation to the space environment is dependent on space life science research. There is a need for in situ analysis-capability to better support this research. As one of the most versatile analytic technologies, flow cytometry could support many types of experiments using different organisms:

Human physiology:
  • Physiological change: bone resorption, muscle atrophy, cardiovascular adaptation, anemia

  • Stress levels: assessment of 6 or more hormones in blood sample

  • Countermeasure efficiency: exercise, nutrition, pharmacologic treatment.

  • Inflammation: monitoring of immune cell activation by surface staining

  • Stress: molecular data supporting self-assessment questionnaire
Animal biology:
  • Healing processes on animals

  • Blood cell activation: monitoring of activation markers
Cell biology:
  • Genetic regulation: gene expression studies using cell lines and fluorescent reporter genes

  • Impact of drugs on cell function in microgravity

  • Cellular proliferation and viability
A miniaturized flow cytometer functioning in the space environment will bring the power of molecular biology in space life science studies, improve our understanding of adaptation to this environment and allow a refinement of current countermeasures to reduce health risks of space missions.

Earth Applications
The project will lead to technology transfer and economic benefits through greater efficiency and flexibility in health care delivery and in agricultural support. Several examples are:

Point of care diagnostics:

  • HIV diagnostic: assessment of CD4 positive cells in blood

  • Anemia: blood cell count

  • Cancer: monitoring of cancer markers or leukemic cells

  • Reproduction: sperm count/analysis
  • Milk somatic cell count

  • Cattle health: infection, microbial monitoring
The versatility of a portable flow cytometer will contribute to reduce health care costs in isolated regions and northern territories. Data collected on site through a portable cytometer will provide additional data in case of abdominal or chest pain for instance and ensure that patients are treated appropriately, while saving resources required for transportation of patients to distant clinical institutions for a blood test.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
Information Pending

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Sample analysis by the Microflow1 unit aboard the ISS produced identical results as the ground unit, despite vibrations of a rocket launch and weightlessness environment. This demonstration confirmed that the technology could be developed into a robust bio-analysis platform aboard the ISS to study blood cells and other components during space flight.

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Results Publications

    Dubeau-Laramée G, Rivière C, Jean I, Mermut O, Cohen LY.  Microflow1, a sheathless fiber-optic flow cytometry biomedical platform: Demonstration onboard the International Space Station. Cytometry Part A. 2014 April; 85(4): 322-331. DOI: 10.1002/cyto.a.22427. PMID: 24339248.

    Cohen LY, Vernon , Bergeron .  New molecular technologies against infectious diseases during space flight. Acta Astronautica. 2008; 63: 769-775. DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2007.12.024.

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

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Related Websites

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NASA Image: ISS034E062717 - Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Chris Hadfield holding the Microflow experiment.
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image Principle of flow cytometry. Cells and particles are stained with fluorescent dyes before crossing the path of a laser enabling the quantification of specific molecules in the sample.
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