First stem cells to be manufactured at the ISS, thanks to SpaceX Ax-2 mission

If the experiments meet the requirements, scientists hope to produce billions of stem cells in microgravity one day, resulting in the faster development of stem cell therapies.
Mrigakshi Dixit
The International Space Station.
The International Space Station.


The International Space Station (ISS) serves as a hub for microgravity research, allowing scientists to better understand biological mechanisms in the absence of gravity. The strong gravity of our planet influences every natural process, including how cells grow and differentiate in lab settings. 

Scientists are now preparing to launch an experiment to investigate how stem cells perform in a low-gravity environment. NASA has funded this mission, in which astronauts will cultivate stem cells for the first time in space.

The stem cell experiment will fly on the “Ax-2” mission aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket likely by May 21 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Cedars-Sinai researchers are leading the experiment in collaboration with Axiom Space of Houston, according to a press release.

The stem cell experiment 

The experiment will involve induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which have the ability to develop into the various types of cells found in human organs. 

On Earth, the gravity-induced tension makes it difficult to grow and differentiate iPSCs. The ISS is in low-Earth orbit, more than 250 miles above the planet, and no gravitational force would distort cell growth. As a result, the ISS environment overcomes the gravity barrier, allowing for easier stem cell production. 

Once they arrive at the ISS, the astronauts will carefully examine the growth and differentiation mechanisms of iPSCs in microgravity. Scientists will be able to determine to what degree the microgravity environment impacts how iPSCs develop into other cell types such as brain and heart cells. It will also reveal how quickly the cells were able to grow, as well as the genetic changes that occurred during this process.  

If the experiments meet all of the requirements, scientists hope to produce billions of stem cells in microgravity one day. This would result in the faster development of stem cell therapies needed to treat a wide range of diseases on the planet, including cardiovascular issues. 

“A major challenge for using iPSCs for therapies in humans is making enough of them at very high quality. We want to be able to mass-produce them by the billions so that we can utilize them for a number of different applications, including discovering new drugs that may be able to improve heart function. And while we've gotten better at this over the last few years, there are still certain limitations when it comes to the production of these stem cells, and we think microgravity may be able to overcome some of these,” said Arun Sharma, Ph.D., a stem cell biologist, and co-principal investigator of this experiment.

The mission is only expected to last a week, but it will lay the groundwork for a long-duration experiment that can be conducted on the orbital space station in the near future.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board