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2022-01-04| Technology

Scientists to Study the Effect of Microgravity on Human Brain Cells in Space

by Ameya Paleja
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In an attempt to further understand the effects of gravity on the function of the brain, scientists are sending an in vitro neurovascular model of the human brain to the International Space Station (ISS), a press release from the providers of the in vitro model said. The ISS provides a microgravity environment where the effects of gravity can be isolated on the functioning of the biological tissue. 

The in vitro unit consists of five cell types of the human brain including the blood-brain barrier and is built by Emulate Inc., a Boston, Massachusetts-based company. Emulate’s Organ on a Chip technology provides in vitro models to help us further our understanding of human cell function and hence diseases. It also provides for a better research environment for the prediction of cellular response with higher precision and detail than cell cultures and animal testing. 

“Previous studies, such as NASA’s Functional Immune study, have shown changes in endothelial cell morphology in 2D cultures in space as well as many changes in astronaut immune function during spaceflight,” said Daniel Levner, Chief Technology Officer of Emulate.“Understanding how the immune system interacts with organ biology in microgravity will be important for future research.”

Experiments on Brain Chips in Space

 

Emulate’s Brain Chip that consists of both the neuronal and vascular components of the human brain is the size of a USB thumb drive and has two fluidic channels that are separated by a porous membrane. The neuronal channel contains cortical neurons, astrocytes, pericytes, and microglia while the vascular channel is lined by microvascular endothelial cells. This setup can be used to study the blood-brain barrier and the complex interactions that take place in the environment and have a role in brain physiology and disease. It can also be used to evaluate which drugs can cross this barrier and improve our understanding of the brain response. 

For the recent mission, Emulate is sending 12 such brain chips in a shoebox-sized instrument that NASA uses for experiments at the ISS.  The instrument has all the necessary components for environment control, perfusion, fluid sampling, dosing, etc. needed for the intended experiments to be conducted in an automated fashion. “By comparing the human Brain-Chip response to an inflammatory stimulus under reduced gravity conditions versus its response back on Earth, we will be able to investigate differences in cytokine production, BBB permeability, and morphology,” Levner added. 

The experiments to be conducted at the International Space Station National Lab (ISS-NL) are part of the Tissue-Chips in Space initiative sponsored by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the press release said. 

 

Related Article: Research Endeavors in Space Biology – Are We Gearing Towards Another Biological Moonshot? – GeneOnline News

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