This week saw the launch of a skin cell study head into space. The research mission saw a SpacePharma micro-lab, containing an experiment by Cutiss, travel to the ISS on SpaceX’s 27th commercial resupply mission (CRS-27) for NASA.
Swiss life sciences company Cutiss AG, which focuses on skin regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, has collaborated with Swiss space-tech company SpacePharma to observe the effects that space travel has on skin cells and tissue culture.
The SpacePharma micro-lab is specifically developed for R&D in space under micro-gravity conditions. The remotely controlled, fully automated labs are based on lab-on-a-chip (LOC) technology, in other words a micro-fluidic device that carries living cells in a nutrient-rich growth medium.
“We are thrilled to launch this advanced research and development mission with SpacePharma on board the International Space Station, enabling us to push the boundaries of innovation in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. We are excited by the potential of this research to improve the safety of space travel as well as the likelihood of making scientific discoveries for the benefit of people on Earth,” says Daniela Marino, co-founder and CEO of Cutiss.
In space, humans are known to be impacted by microgravity and space radiation, leading to changes in the structure and function of cells. Apparently skin, like other organs, experiences changes in physical properties such as thickness and levels of hydration, and also biological properties that can impact wound healing.
The study is important for developing strategies to protect astronauts during spaceflight, understanding how exposure to the space environment can affect human health, as well as developing potentially new and innovative medical treatments and technologies that can benefit people on Earth.
“We are discovering new and exciting ways to help humanity in novel medical and pharmacological solutions that can be researched and developed only under micro-gravity conditions in space. SpacePharma is proud to enable such advanced research for pharma and medical players and we are especially excited about this important collaboration with Cutiss that we believe may change scarring treatments for us all,” says Yossi Yamin, co-founder and CEO of SpacePharma.
With the SpacePharma micro-lab plugged into the ISS’s electrical and monitoring systems, CUTISS will observe in vitro the cultivation of human skin cells (keratinocytes and fibroblasts) in 2D or 3D culture systems to assess their ability to produce extracellular matrices, and also look at the cells’ properties, such as their ability to migrate and to divide.
The aim is to deepen our understanding of fundamental biological processes and potentially support the development of new therapies, devices and tools for wound healing, ageing, and scarring.
Once onboard the ISS, the micro-lab will be connected to the station’s power and monitoring systems by NASA astronaut Dr Warren Hoburg. The data from the micro-lab will be transmitted back to Earth in real-time to the CUTISS scientific team.
The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket launched from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on 14 March.
In around four weeks time the miniaturised lab will come back to Earth in the Dragon spacecraft near the Florida coastline.