3-D Brain Models of PPMS and Parkinson’s Off to Space Station for Research in Microgravity

Joana Carvalho, PhD avatar

by Joana Carvalho, PhD |

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The National Stem Cell Foundation (NSCF) announced the start of a pioneering project to investigate the impact of microgravity on the neurodegeneration associated with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS) and Parkinson’s disease.

The project, a collaboration between the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) Research Institute, the Summit for Stem Cell, and investigators with Aspen Neuroscience, will send 3-D brain organoids derived from patients with these disorders, for a first time, to the International Space Station (ISS) on SpaceX CRS-18.

This flight, set to launch on July 21 from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, is a test run for a 30-day study of neurodegeneration in microgravity set to take place on the space station this fall.

“The National Stem Cell Foundation is delighted to be funding innovative science at the frontier of new drug and cell therapy discovery. The leading-edge research findings that have developed through this collaboration between important research groups may fundamentally alter our understanding of how and why neurodegeneration occurs,” Paula Grisanti, chief executive officer of the NSCF, said in a press release.

These organoids, or 3-D cellular brain models, contain microglia — cells that normally support and protect neurons. Microglia are implicated in the brain inflammation and disease progression seen in people with Parkinson’s, PPMS, and other neurodegenerative disorders.

The project will allow scientists in the near absence of gravity to study how these cells interact with each other, migrate, send and receive chemical signals, change their genetic signature, and promote brain inflammation. As such, investigators may get a glimpse of all the biological mechanisms involved in PPMS and Parkinson’s in ways not feasible on Earth.

This work might lead to understandings and advancements with a direct impact on the development of medicines and cell therapies for neurodegenerative diseases.

Space Tango is leading the transport and maintenance logistics, to ensure the cells arrive at the ISS in the best possible condition and remain viable during the 30 days they will remain in orbit. To that end, the company has developed a series of automated systems intended to surpass conventional lab techniques, and allow space station researchers to work with a higher number of samples than typical, and use high-throughput techniques to easily analyze them.

According to the company, these automated systems are not intended exclusively for research on the ISS, but may also be used by research facilities worldwide to support and accelerate scientific innovation.

“The vision the National Stem Cell Foundation brings to using new approaches to science and creating collaborations between leading experts in Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis from across the country is truly unique,” said Jana Stoudemire, commercial innovation officer at Space Tango.

“In addition to supporting the development of tissue chip platforms for microgravity, Space Tango is excited to expand capabilities for human 3-D brain organoid models that will assist in studying some of the most challenging diseases we have yet to truly understand,” Stoudemire added. “We are very pleased to support this important research on the ISS.”

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