BOSTON—Before summer officially ends, we thought it might be nice to share some interesting news of life-sciences research, organs-on-chips and outer space that was announced just as summer got under way. Specifically, Emulate Inc. announced that it had received a research grant to use the company’s human Brain-Chip system and develop a fully automated research platform, with the purpose to conduct experiments on the International Space Station.
Studies will analyze the Brain-Chip, which consists of neuronal and vascular endothelial cells in a living micro-engineered environment. Experiments will be conducted under healthy and inflamed states to assess how space travel affects neuronal function.
The NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) provided the award of $2 million. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the organization tasked by NASA to manage and promote research onboard the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, will coordinate the implementation of Emulate’s Human Emulation System to conduct research in space.
Freed from the effects of gravity found on Earth, the International Space Station provides an environment where researchers can study human health in microgravity, allowing them to decouple the force of gravity from other effects that can impact brain cell function. Different experiments using the Brain-Chip will study how other space travel stressors—such as hypergravity experienced during launch, reduced availability of oxygen known as hypoxia, and increased levels of stress hormones—influence brain function.
“We are honored to be selected for this research at the International Space Station which sets forth courageous goals to pioneer discoveries in space and to improve human health here on Earth,” said Dr. Geraldine A. Hamilton, president and CEO of Emulate. “As we make our Human Emulation System available to labs throughout the world, we continue to push new boundaries. It's an exciting opportunity for us to collaborate with experts working in the space program so that we can leverage research with Organ-Chips in space and apply the learnings to human health challenges that are experienced on Earth.”
This project is also designed to provide insight into the relationship between inflammation and brain function, a very active area of investigation for furthering understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. One particular aspect of the brain that the research will focus on will be blood–brain-barrier functionality. The blood-brain-barrier protects the brain by preventing unwanted substances entering the brain, and can be altered during inflammation. The studies will use the Brain-Chip to evaluate the efficacy of anti-inflammatory therapeutic intervention on the blood-brain barrier in space.
“Conducting research with organs-on-chips technology on the International Space Station is a remarkable opportunity to understand disease and improve human health,” said NCATS Director Dr. Christopher P. Austin. “Physiological functions in the microgravity of the International Space Station will provide insights that will increase translational effectiveness on Earth, including identifying novel targets for drug discovery and development.”
Emulate said it would adapt the instrumentation of its Human Emulation System in order to achieve the requirements for use of organs-on-chips technology on the International Space Station, which includes automation of experiments and size constraints. Technical developments will also were said to include innovations to Emulate’s fluidic systems.
“The adaptation of our organs-on-chips technology for research in space advances new frontiers for designing the functionality of our system to be highly-automated, streamlined, and size-efficient,” said Chris Hinojosa, director of discovery at Emulate. “We are further optimizing our system to meet the requirements for use in space which, in turn, will enable us to improve our system for use by many researchers and companies on Earth.” Hinojosa will lead the team working on the project.