Heart Tissue On a Chip is Going Back to The International Space Station for Additional Research

A chip with heart tissue is returning to the International Space Station (ISS) for more research. Two projects by teams from Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University will be part of the payload on the SpaceX CRX-27 resupply mission to the ISS on March 14. The researchers hope to leverage microgravity’s aging effects on heart muscle cells. This will ultimately help identify new treatments for cardiovascular disease.

The Johns Hopkins scientists will reexamine how microgravity affects heart cell mitochondria. Also, they will examine whether pre-treating the cells with three different medications reduces the issues related to space travel and how inflammation affects how proteins are activated. The Stanford team will investigate if heart failure can be modeled using cardiac tissue grown in microgravity for medication testing.

Microgravity and radiation may prematurely age an astronaut’s organ systems and DNA. This is according to studies on people who spend months on the ISS. Comparing this to animal models on Earth has implications for quickly understanding how aging functions.

The Tissue Chips in Space effort was created by NCATS and the National Institutes of Health. The purpose was to make use of the unique testing environment by combining it with organ-on-a-chip technology. Cardiac tissue research is one of the nine projects financed by the program. Cell cultures of organ tissue are grown inside microfluidic chips. These are tiny plates having channels and grooves that let the cells travel across them. The chips are made to regulate the microenvironment. This allows the cells inside to continue performing the same physiological tasks as the tissues they are imitating.

The Stanford and Johns Hopkins heart chip initiatives have now launched for the second time. To ensure that the cardiac muscle cells would survive the launch and that the studies could produce results, the first flight was a proof-of-concept mission. The flight taught the scientists about effective packing and automation to make the experiments as easy to handle as feasible for astronauts. In addition, it also taught them about how microgravity affects the mitochondria and contractility of heart cells.

The studies involving heart tissue will stay on the space station for 30 days before being sent down on a different SpaceX spaceship for investigation. In order to help the majority of people on Earth, researchers are working to identify some of the molecular changes that cause the impacts of aging. This will help in creating treatments or countermeasures that would either delay or lessen those effects.