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NASA to Send Organ-on-Chips To Test Human Tissue Health in Space

Called a micro-physiological system, a tissue chip needs three main properties

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NASA, tissue
US shutdown delays space missions but NASA not grounded: Report,

NASA is planning to send small devices containing human cells in a 3D matrix — known as tissue chips or organs-on-chips — to the International Space Station (ISS) to test how they respond to stress, drugs and genetic changes.

Made of flexible plastic, tissue chips have ports and channels to provide nutrients and oxygen to the cells inside them.

The “Tissue Chips in Space” initiative seeks to better understand the role of microgravity on human health and disease and to translate that understanding to improved human health on Earth, NASA said.

“Spaceflight causes many significant changes in the human body,” said Liz Warren, Associate Program Scientist at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) in the US.

Kepler, NASA, tissue
This illustration made available by NASA shows the Kepler Space Telescope. As of October 2018, the planet-hunting spacecraft has been in space for nearly a decade. VOA

“We expect tissue chips in space to behave much like an astronaut’s body, experiencing the same kind of rapid change,” Warren said.

The US space agency is planning the investigations in collaboration with CASIS and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes for Health (NIH).

Many of the changes in the human body caused by microgravity resemble the onset and progression of diseases associated with ageing on Earth, such as bone and muscle loss. But the space-related changes occur much faster.

That means scientists may be able to use tissue chips in space to model changes that might take months or years to happen on Earth.

Parkinson's Disease, Kepler, NASA, tissue
A researcher takes a tissue sample from a human brain at the Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s UK Tissue Bank, VOA

This first phase of Tissue Chips in Space includes five investigations. An investigation of immune system ageing is planned for launch on the SpaceX CRS-16 flight, scheduled for this year.

The other four, scheduled to launch on SpaceX CRS-17 or subsequent flights, include lung host defense, the blood-brain barrier, musculoskeletal disease and kidney function.

In addition, four more projects are scheduled for launch in summer 2020, including two on engineered heart tissue to understand cardiovascular health, one on muscle wasting and another on gut inflammation.

Kepler, NASA, tissue
“Detecting life in an agnostic fashion means not using characteristics particular to Earth life,” said Heather Graham at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Pixabay

Also called a micro-physiological system, a tissue chip needs three main properties, according to Lucie Low, scientific programme manager at National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences in the US.

Also Read: NASA’s Ralph Will Explore Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids in 2021

“It has to be 3D, because humans are 3D,” she explained.

“It must have multiple, different types of cells, because an organ is made up of all kinds of tissue types. And it must have microfluidic channels, because every single tissue in your body has vasculature to bring in blood and nutrients and to take away detritus,” she added. (IANS)

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Human Sperm Retains Viability in Outer Space Conditions: Researchers

The study was presented at an annual meeting of European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Vienna, Austria

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Each sperm has 37.5MB of DNA information in it.
Each sperm has 37.5MB of DNA information in it.

Researchers have found that human sperm retains its complete viability within the different gravitational conditions found in outer space.

The results could be a huge boost to zillionaires like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who see the “colonisation” of space as an answer to the Earth’s ever threatened resources.

“If the number of space missions increases in the coming years, and are of longer duration, it is important to study the effects of long-term human exposure to space in order to face them,” said Montserrat Boada from Dexeus Women’s Health in Barcelona, whose group worked with microgravity engineers from the Polytechnic University of Barcelona.

“It’s not unreasonable to start thinking about the possibility of reproduction beyond the Earth,” Boada said.

The study was performed using a small aerobatic training aircraft (CAP10), which can provide short-duration hypogravity exposure.

The plane executed a series of 20 parabolic manoeuvres, providing eight seconds of microgravity for each parabola.

Overall, 10 sperm samples obtained from 10 healthy donors were analysed after exposure to the different microgravities found in space and ground gravity.

To overcome regulatory constraints and increase donor numbers, sperm banks in the UK and Australia began to market the act of donating sperm as a confirmation of masculinity. Pixabay

The sperm analysis comprised a full range of measurements currently performed for fertility testing — concentration, motility, vitality, morphology and DNA fragmentation — and results found no difference whatsoever in any of the parameters between the microgravity space samples and the control group samples from Earth.

Indeed, there was 100 per cent concordance in DNA fragmentation rate and vitality, and 90 per cent concordance in sperm concentration and motility, said Boada.

These minor differences, she added, “were more probably related to heterogeneity of the sperm sample than to the effect of exposure to different gravity conditions”.

Boada described this as a preliminary study and her group will now move on to validate the results and then to larger sperm samples, longer periods of microgravity and even fresh sperm.

Also Read: Xiaomi Confirms First Smartphones Under its New CC Series

One reason for using frozen sperm in this study was the known effect of radiation on fresh sperm, Boada noted.

“Radiation impairs the quality and viability of human sperm, and these effects are expected to be greater on fresh sperm than on frozen samples,” she said.

The study was presented at an annual meeting of European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Vienna, Austria. (IANS)