First patient-derived, disease-specific stem cells in microgravity to advance understanding of neurodegenerative disease

The National Stem Cell Foundation (NSCF) announced yesterday that research teams from the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) Research Institute, Summit for Stem Cell and Aspen Neuroscience will be launching the first brain organoids to study neurodegenerative disease in microgravity to the International Space Station on SpaceX 18, scheduled to launch July 21st from pad 40A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. This is a preliminary flight in preparation for a first-in-kind study of neurodegeneration in microgravity scheduled to launch to the ISS later this fall.

The full research project, an NSCF-funded collaboration between the NY Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute, Summit for Stem Cell and researchers at Aspen Neuroscience, will send patient-derived human 3-D models of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and primary progressive MS (PPMS) to the ISS for a 30-day stay in late 2019. The models, called organoids, will incorporate microglia, the inflammatory cells of the immune system implicated in the pathogenesis of PD, PPMS and other neurodegenerative diseases. The ability to observe cell interaction, cell signaling, migration, changes in gene expression and the common pathway of neuroinflammation for both diseases in microgravity provides an opportunity to view the biological processes and biomarkers involved in a way that is not possible on Earth.  This innovative approach to study has the potential to provide new insights into the mechanism of these diseases that may accelerate new drug and cell therapy options for patients.

Dr. Paula Grisanti, CEO of NSCF said, “The National Stem Cell Foundation is delighted to be funding innovative science at the frontier of new drug and cell therapy discovery. The leading-edge research findings that have developed through this collaboration between important research groups may fundamentally alter our understanding of how and why neurodegeneration occurs.”

The development of patient-specific, 3-D human organoids that incorporate microglia for observation and study in the unique research environment of microgravity has the potential to enable progress in the field, directly impacting diseases like PD, MS and a wide variety of other neurodegenerative conditions affecting a significant portion of the global population. The engineering required to facilitate the transport and cell culture on orbit is being led by Space Tango. The automated systems Space Tango is developing to support this research on ISS provide improved consistency over traditional manual laboratory techniques and expand the number of samples that can be evaluated by incorporating high-throughput capabilities. These autonomous platforms will not only support research on ISS, but also provide opportunities to accelerate terrestrial research.

“The vision the National Stem Cell Foundation brings to using new approaches to science and creating collaborations between leading experts in Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis from across the country is truly unique,” said Jana Stoudemire, Commercial Innovation Officer at Space Tango. “In addition to supporting the development of tissue chip platforms for microgravity, Space Tango is excited to expand capabilities for human 3-D brain organoid models that will assist in studying some of the most challenging diseases we have yet to truly understand.  We are very pleased to support this important research on the ISS and look forward to continuing to work together with the National Stem Cell Foundation and other partners they may bring on for future flights.

Of the 80 research payloads launching to the ISS on SpaceX-CRS-18, NASA will highlight this project and three others during a press briefing that will stream live on NASA TV at 1:00 EDT Tuesday, July 9th.  Audio will stream live online at