Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells (Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells) - 07.12.17

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

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
In order to be used in various medical therapies, human stem cells must be expanded. Scientists currently have no efficient way to do this, but stem cell expansion may accelerate in microgravity. Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells cultivates human stem cells aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for use in clinical trials to evaluate their use in treating disease. Results also advance future studies on how to scale up expansion of stem cells for treating stroke and other conditions.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

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


Principal Investigator(s)
Abba Zubair, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic , Jacksonville, FL, United States

Information Pending

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, Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2016 - September 2017

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells measures cell proliferation in microgravity versus gravity of Earth.
  • Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells observes cell growth and morphological characteristics in microgravity and analyzes gene expression profiles of cells grown in microgravity.
  • The investigation uses viable cells grown in microgravity in a variety of downstream in vitro and in vivo experiments on Earth.
  • The growth of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering for treatment of human disease is limited by the capacity to generate enough stem cells for effective therapy.
  • Stem cells grown in microgravity may expand at an accelerated rate.
  • Expanded stem cells are evaluated for safety and efficacy for therapeutic application in humans.
  • Knowledge gained will support subsequent studies involving large-scale expansion of clinical grade stem cells for the treatment of patients with stroke.


Research facilities on the International Space Station (ISS) are used to answer the questions, “Does microgravity enhance the expansion of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) and leukemia cancer stem cells? Is it feasible to expand safe and potent clinical grade MSC and HSC in microgravity within the ISS environment?".  Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells expands the existing knowledge on how microgravity affects stem cell growth and differentiation. These findings directly address the core problem that there is currently no efficient method to expand human stem cells.
The long term goals of Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells are to develop a safe and reliable clinical grade stem cell bioreactor in space for commercial use and to understand the biology of stem cells and the progression of cancer stem cells. The hypothesis of the investigation is that stem cells proliferate faster in microgravity with the goal of generating preliminary data that will be used to design a larger clinical study
There is a growing demand for stem cells for use in biological therapy, but they are also vital in tissue and organ engineering. This proposal addresses a critical barrier in the field by providing an alternative method for generating large-scale safe and effective MSC and HSC for clinical application. Collective attainment of the objectives demonstrates the feasibility of expanding clinical grade stem cells for regenerative medicine applications. In addition, successful completion of the proposed studies expands the knowledge of the role of microgravity in stem cell biology. With the increasing commercialization of space transportation and the space station, it is believed that the cost of transporting stem cells to and from ISS and the maintenance of cell bioreactors for stem cell expansion, tissue engineering and organogenesis will be highly cost effective.

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Space Applications
This investigation provides an increased understanding of how the microgravity environment affects growth and differentiation of human stem cells, particularly cancer stem cells. This has applications in developing ways to screen astronauts for their risk of developing certain cancers and in the treatment of disease and injury in space.

Earth Applications
Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells provides a way to improve stem-cell production for human therapy and supports clinical evaluation of cells expanded in microgravity as a new therapy for stroke patients. It provides insight into how a number of human cancers start and spread, which, in turn, aids in development of effective prevention and treatment of those cancers.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

The PHABs are placed in SABL 37°C with 5% CO2 for culturing on board ISS. The BioCells are processed in MSG, processed and placed in SABL on board ISS. At varying times the BioCells are removed from SABL and placed in the MSG for processing preservation. These activities require between 2 and 4 hours of crew time for each session. The payload requires two processing sessions, one at 7 days and the other at 14 days. Three BioCells are used for imaging using the BioServe microscope every 24 to 48 hours depending upon the samples for up to 4 days.
There are 20 samples in the investigation. Two time points are used: half processed at 7 days the other half processed at 14 days. Three imaging samples are taken. Two are imaged every 24 hours for 7 days and the other one is imaged every 48 hours for 14 days. Images from the microscope are utilized using the VUE camera system from the MSG. Those images are downlinked post imaging session. Imaging samples are preserved and kept at 4°C while all other samples are held at <-80°C until 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

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NASA Image: ISS050E042167 - European Space Agency (ESA) Thomas Pesquet and Peggy Whitson, both Expedition 50 Flight Engineers, set up the Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells Life Science Ancillary Hardware (LSAH) in the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG). Photo taken during Expedition 50.

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NASA Image: ISS050E052142 - Expedition 50 Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson sets up a microscope in support of the Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells payload outside the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) housed inside the U.S. Destiny laboratory module.

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NASA Image: ISS050E053302 - Peggy Whitson, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer, during removal of a Bio-Cell from the Space Automated Bio-product Laboratory-2 (SABL2) and placed on the microscope stage configured outside the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), in the U.S. Laboratory. Photo taken during Expedition 50.

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NASA Image: ISS050E054453 - Peggy Whitson, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer, during removal of a Bio-Cell from the Space Automated Bio-product Laboratory-2 (SABL2) and placed on the microscope stage configured outside the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), in the U.S. Laboratory. Photo taken during Expedition 50.

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