Endothelial cells
Science & Exploration

Growing tissues in space

06/11/2019 1285 views 17 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Research

Tissue engineering is a fast-developing field reaching new heights thanks to space research. An experiment on the International Space Station is opening up possibilities to grow artificial blood vessels for surgery on humans.

Most of the techniques to grow three-dimensional structures from human cells on Earth involve biocompatible scaffolds. In the lab, scientists use them to define the shape of the tissue and help cells stick to each other. A European experiment showed how cell cultures in microgravity do not need external support and could form rudimentary blood vessels naturally.

The Spheroids experiment looked at how the cells that form the inner layer of our blood vessels – the endothelial cells – react to microgravity on the space station.Endothelial cells control the contraction and expansion of our blood vessels, regulating blood flow to our organs and blood pressure.

Play
$video.data_map.short_description.content
Research in space for health: growing blood vessels
Access the video

Weightlessness and lack of convection in orbit make an ideal combination to study these three-dimensional, complex structures.

The human cells cultivated in space assembled into tubular structures, similar to the inner lining of blood vessels inside our bodies. The experiment had cells growing for 12 days inside ESA’s Kubik incubator to keep them at the right temperature.

Endothelial cells
Endothelial cells

“These tube-like aggregations resembled rudimentary blood vessels, something never achieved before by scientists cultivating cells on Earth,” says Daniela Grimm of the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg, Germany. The Spheroids experiment ran on the International Space Station in 2016.

“Nobody knew how the cells would react to space. The Spheroids project has been an exciting adventure from the very beginning,” she adds.

Built in space for patients on Earth

With the samples back on Earth, scientists were pleasantly surprised to see how the cells formed three-dimensional spheroids aggregates by themselves.

“We learned new things about the tube formation mechanism, and the results confirmed that gravity has an impact on the way key proteins and genes interact,” explains Markus Wehland, a molecular biologist from the same university.

Laboratory and paperwork continues – how and why the cells accumulate into spheroids is still under investigation.

Endothelial cells
Endothelial cells

“We are culturing different cells to improve tissue engineering of artificial blood vessels,” Markus says. Combining the endothelial cells with other cultures, the team has even been able to ‘rebuild’ several layers of a blood vessel in a random positioning machine, a device that simulates microgravity on Earth.

Growing blood vessels in space could help engineer human tissues for transplants or for producing new drugs. Better techniques could eventually help replace damaged blood vessels for patients in need of transplants.

Astronauts will also benefit from the new knowledge about endothelial cells, since they show alterations in blood pressure during spaceflight.

Related Articles

Soyuz MS-11
Science & Exploration

Lung health, algae and radiation research on Space Station

24/06/2019 966 views 22 likes
Read
Earth or Mars?
Science & Exploration

Getting ready for Mars – on the Space Station

27/05/2019 5449 views 95 likes
Read
Columbus laboratory
Science & Exploration

Clocks, gravity, and the limits of relativity

23/05/2019 5596 views 137 likes
Read
Visualising the laws of physics
Science & Exploration

Fake plastic atoms

18/12/2018 7407 views 114 likes
Read
Neuronal deterioration of worm during ageing
Science & Exploration

Worms in space to understand muscle loss

05/12/2018 2530 views 43 likes
Read
HESAC at its 31st meeting, 6 September 2018
Science & Exploration

New start for ESA’s exploration science advisory group

16/10/2018 382 views 2 likes
Read
Science & Exploration

New research opportunities on International Space Station

08/02/2019 4666 views 55 likes
Read
Sunrise seen from Space Station
Science & Exploration

The next generation of Space Station experiments

20/03/2015 6187 views 31 likes
Read
International Space Station with ATV-2 and Endeavour docked
Science & Exploration

Calling scientists: send your experiment out of this world

28/02/2014 4087 views 28 likes
Read
International Space Station during STS-134
Science & Exploration

Shining light on elusive dark matter

03/04/2013 11286 views 59 likes
Read
Cell experiment in portable glovebox
Science & Exploration

Finding the key to immunity

04/02/2013 7190 views 45 likes
Read
Installing Columbus
Science & Exploration

Five years of unique science on Columbus

12/02/2013 7761 views 42 likes
Read
Microgravity Science Glovebox
Science & Exploration

Hooray for glovebox milestone – and faster computers

31/10/2011 1162 views 3 likes
Read
André freezing blood samples
Science & Exploration

Keeping immune cells alive and kicking

08/05/2012 1458 views 9 likes
Read
Lichen
Science & Exploration

The toughest life on Earth

22/06/2012 4281 views 20 likes
Read
Setting up an experiment in the European Columbus laboratory
Science & Exploration

Astronaut Cruise control

27/02/2013 2680 views 15 likes
Read
Zero-G takeoff
Science & Exploration

European space agencies inaugurate altered-gravity aircraft

08/05/2015 11097 views 82 likes
Read

Related Articles

Related Links