There's a lot happening on the International Space Station (ISS). One of the exciting projects NASA astronauts are currently working on is growing three-dimensional cultures in order to see how zero gravity assists their growth.
What that means is that they're growing new organs in Space. The experiment is an attempt to grow human tissue from human stem cells sent from Earth.
Growing organs in Space
The hope is that these stem cells will eventually turn into bone, cartilage, and other organs. Once that's achieved, the hope is that the experiment will open doors to grow organs that are ready for transplant.
The reason the project is taking place in Space is to use "weightlessness as a tool", as per Cara Thiel's description. Thiel is one of the two researchers from the University of Zurich who is conducting this research.
By being in zero gravity, human stem cells are encouraged to grow in a 3D manner. Down on Earth, so far, these are only able to grow in single-layer structures.
The astronauts on the ISS are attempting to grow the stem cells in a mobile mini-laboratory that was sent up via SpaceX's Dragon capsule and arrived just last week.
The experiment is expected to last one month as the astronauts observe the growth of the stem cells. If all goes to plan the laboratory will move to a bigger production. It's from there that NASA could then use this process to generate tissue for transplants from cells of patients.
This week's #FunFactFriday is biomanufacturing aboard the International Space Station. We've learned that in space, microgravity takes cell growth from 2D to 3D! Click the link to see how it can lead to growing human organs in the future! 😮 https://t.co/JNbvzCLZgepic.twitter.com/msI6UVtlR4— NASA Solve (@NASASolve) February 14, 2020
Moreover, it could generate organ-like material that could potentially be used for other medical experiments, which would minimize the use of animals in drug testing and experiments.
Professor Ullrich, head researcher of the experiment is hopeful about the experiment as investigations both on Earth and in Space suggest that cells in microgravity "exhibit spatially unrestricted growth and assemble into complex 3D aggregates.