Magnetic 3D Cell Culture for Biological Research in Microgravity (Magnetic 3D Cell Culturing) - 04.26.17

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

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Science Objectives for Everyone
Cell cultures in space spontaneously grow in three dimensions (3D), which results in characteristics more representative of how cells grow and function in living organisms. But in microgravity, routine manipulation of cell cultures is challenging. Magnetic 3D Cell Culture for Biological Research in Microgravity (Magnetic 3D Cell Culturing) uses magnetized cells and tools to make it easier to handle cells and cultures, and to improve the reproducibility of experiments. This approach also makes it possible to generate two-dimensional (2D) cultures as controls, and to determine whether biological events in these monolayer cultures result from gravity or substrate attachment.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

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

OpNom: Magnetic 3D Cultures

Principal Investigator(s)
Glauco Souza, Ph.D., n3D Biosciences, Inc., Houston, TX, United States

Jeanne L. Becker, Ph.D., Astrogenetix, Austin, TX, United States
Luis Zea, Ph.D., BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado, Boulder, Boulder, CO, United States
Stefanie Countryman, M.B.A., BioServe Space Technologies, Boulder, CO, United States
Louis S. Stodieck, Ph.D., University of Colorado, BioServe Space Technologies, Boulder, CO, United States

BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory (NL)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits

ISS Expedition Duration
April 2017 - September 2017

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Magnetic 3D Cell Culture for Biological Research in Microgravity (Magnetic 3D cell culturing) incorporates magnetic cell culture technology into existing flight hardware to develop optimal operating conditions to support continued cell culturing activities on the International Space Station (ISS).
  • Magnetic 3D Cell Culturing establishes magnetic bioprinting as a platform for two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) cell culture on the ISS.
  • Magnetic 3D Cell Culturing seeks to overcome the practical challenge of media exchange without losing cells in culture, and of handling and retrieving cell cultures for analysis.
  • Magnetic 3D Cell Culturing enables engineering of complex tissue structures that exhibit relevant tissue-like spatial architecture.
  • Magnetic 3D Cell Culturing enables the ability to perform 2D cell culture to provide much needed controls for space-based cell culture research and comparisons with ground studies.
  • Magnetic 3D Cell Culturing improves throughput and scalability of experiments at the ISS.


The key objective of Magnetic 3D Cell Culture for Biological Research in Microgravity (Magnetic 3D Cell Culturing) is to validate magnetic cell culturing and bioprinting as a universal platform for two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) cell culture in space. Magnetic cell culture provides the means to more easily manipulate cell cultures in space, thereby paving the way towards the development of new types of tools which may support efficient throughput systems for enhanced cell and tissue culture capabilities on orbit.
In the microgravity environment, cells exhibit spatially unrestricted growth and assemble into complex 3D aggregates, in contrast to typical growth in monolayer (2D) cultures as occurs on Earth. For over two decades, investigations conducted in space and on Earth have shown that 3D culture supports the generation of tissue-like characteristics in vitro that are more biologically representative of native in vivo-like cell growth and function. Because cell culture in microgravity can be technically and mechanically challenging, the application of magnetic tools to assist physical manipulation of the growing cultures could provide advantages to enhance experimental outcomes and facilitate the development of throughput systems for conducting high volume cell culture work in space.
Nano3D Biosciences, Inc. (n3D) has developed and commercialized a cell levitation technology that supports the generation of 3D growth, whereby individual cells binding magnetic nanoparticles rapidly assemble into magnetized 3D aggregates that are easily manipulated in culture by the application of external magnets. With the support from the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), this technology has been adapted to further advance experiments in space. n3D has also developed and commercialized a cell bioprinting technology, which has been adapted to form 2D cultures by bringing and holding the cells to the surface, allowing the cells to attach and grow in a monolayer. Together, these technologies allow 2D and 3D culture both in space and on the ground, which can help isolate the effect of gravity on the experiment.
This experiment is integrated by BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The experiment is hosted in four MultiWell BioCells and two BioCell Habitats, and makes use of BioServe’s Space Automated Bioproduct Lab (SABL) and Atmosphere Control Module (ACM) to culture carcinoma (lung cells, Calu-3) at 37°C and 5% CO2.

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Space Applications
Magnetic tools integrated with existing flight-certified hardware add a platform for cell culture research in space. This platform provides a way to manipulate and culture cells in 2D and 3D in space and on the ground, which can help isolate the effects of gravity in experiments and enable biological research previously deemed unfeasible in space.

Earth Applications
Validation of magnetic cells and tools for growth of 3D cultures in microgravity has value for research on Earth. A growing demand exists for in vitro or culture models that better capture the characteristics of tissue in living organisms. The capability to recreate such environments on Earth almost as easily as in space could potentially reduce drug development costs.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

The cells are launched frozen, and once in orbit are thawed using BioServe’s Thawing System and introduced into the BioCells. Once the experiment reaches the ISS, the crew transfers the experiment from the cargo vehicle to the Space Automated Bioproduct Lab (SABL) unit that resides in the Expedite the Processing of Experiments to the Space Station (EXPRESS) rack on board the ISS. SABL is commanded to 37°C and 5% CO2 for incubation of the cells. n3D Biosciences’s nanoshuttles and magnets are used to manipulate fluid (e.g. media exchange) in the wells, while maintaining the cells in place, and to better produce spherical cell clusters. Samples are fixed before return to Earth.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites
Nano3D Biosciences, Inc.
Nature, “Cell culture: a better brew”, April 2013
Nature Medicine, “Startups tout commercially 3D-printed tissue for drug screening”, January 2015
NBC News, “Magnetic Levitation Grows Realistic Lung Tissue”, February 2013
Popular Science, “Researchers make super-realistic artificial lung tissue by levitating cells”, 2013
MIT Technology Review, “Bio-Assembling in 3-D with Magnetic Levitation, A New System Grows Tissue in 3-D without Protein Matrixes”, 2011
TEDx Houston 2012 RESONATE

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