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‘Organs-on-chips’ set for launch to the International space station

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The next resupply mission to the International space station will contain advanced ‘organs-on-chips’ that are designed to provide valuable scientific information for future manned space flights and diseases on Earth.

About 100 chips will be transferred to the ISS, with living human cells to mimic the function of major organs.

The CRS-17 mission is SpaceX 17th resupply mission to the orbit space lab. Launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, an unmanned SpaceX Dragon capsule will carry cargo to the ISS. The launch was originally scheduled for 26 April, but a question of power on the space station has pushed the launch back to May 3, at the earliest.

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The Tissue Chips in the Space project of the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and the International Space Station U.S. National Lab.

MIT’s tissue chip research (International Space Station U.S. National Lab)

Dr. Michael Roberts, deputy chief scientist for the ISS U.S. National Lab, told Fox News that the chips give scientists an opportunity to monitor the cells in microgravity.

“It is a very useful model for us here on Earth,” he said. “The National Institutes of Health is interested in that fight disease – NASA is interested in research into long-duration space missions.”

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Scientists are sending four different types of tissue chips to the ISS. These are made of cartilage, bone, and synovium (joint tissue) chip, developed by MIT, a lung host defense chip that is developed by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a kidney-chip, developed by the University of Washington. A “blood-brain-barrier” chip developed by biotech specialist Emulate will be used for the study of the semi-permeable brain membrane.

File photo The International Space Station is seen in this view of the space shuttle Discovery after the undocking of the two spacecraft in this photo provided by NASA and taken March 7, 2011.
(REUTERS/NASA/handout)

The MIT-developed chip will be used for the study of the possibility of the bone and cartilage to recover after damage, according to Roberts, while the kidneys chip will offer insight into the development of advanced kidney disease in a microgravity environment. The chip with lung cells are used to study the effect of pathogens in the lungs, while the “blood-brain barrier” chip will be used to study brain disease.

“That has significant implications for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and has very important consequences for the delivery of drugs,” Roberts added.

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“The fabric chips can be adjusted for each type of cell culture,” he said.

MIT worked on the development of a cartilage, bone, and synovium (joint tissue) chip. (International Space Station U.S. National Lab)

A first set of chips for mobile aging analysis were sent to the ISS on a SpaceX resupply mission in December. This will be returned to the Earth on the same Dragon capsule to make the next resupply mission.

“The researchers have the samples back in their hands and a number of data in about 40 days [of the chips’ return to Earth],” said Roberts.

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Scientists will also study the tissue samples in the space for insight into how astronauts rate on epic missions. NASA’s long-term goal is to have a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s – a trip to the Red Planet would be 2.5 years.

“This tissue chip is a very big step,” former NASA astronaut Terry Virts told Fox News. “Astronauts complain if you want their brain tissue or stomach tissue,” he joked.

Virts is a consultant of the Centre for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which runs from the ISS U.S. National Lab.

“Just testing the technology is very important,” he said, with the explanation that ground-breaking scientific projects involve a lot of trial and error. The benefits is important, however, both on Earth and in orbit. “A help in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, or osteoarthritis, this would be great,” Virts explained.

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