Wake Forest regenerative medicine research set for ISS

Taking the development of local regenerative medicine research into outer space is set to become a reality this month.

Axiom Space, which is developing the first commercial space station, and Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine said Monday they will sent the first bioprinted solid tissue constructs to the International Space Station.

According to Cellink.com, bioprinting “is an additive manufacturing process similar to 3D printing, using a digital file as a blueprint to print an object layer by layer.”

“But unlike 3D printing, bioprinters print with cells and biomaterials, creating organ-like structures that let living cells multiply. Although bioprinting is a relatively new technology, it has huge potential to benefit industries like regenerative and personalized medicine, drug discovery and cosmetics.”

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Axiom will pilot the all-private astronaut mission Ax-2 to the low-orbit ISS. The mission will be launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

The groups said the crew will conduct extensive scientific research experiments, including WFIRM’s vascularized research involving liver and kidney tissue constructs.

The tissues will be studied for 10 days to evaluate the vascularization of thick tissue in microgravity, as well as the effectiveness of this platform technology for other tissue types.

“This launch marks an important next step for our regenerative medicine research related to vascularized tissue,” WFIRM Director Dr. Anthony Atala said in a statement.

“This is an opportunity to develop an interim or early step toward creating solid tissues/partial organs for transplantation into patients in the future to address the organ shortage.”

Core details

The research is among the first fruits of the collaboration between WFIRM and Axiom that was announced in April 2022.

WFIRM officials have described the partnership as the “next frontier” in research and manufacturing.

Previous research on the ISS using cells in low-Earth orbit has included both 2D and small 3D cultures.

These prior experiments have shown that cells exposed to micro-gravity undergo both genetic and functional changes, including increased motility and proliferation.

Studying these larger tissue constructs in microgravity will help inform the researchers not only with regards to how the liver/kidney cells respond, but also as to how an endothelial coating of blood vessel cells will react to the altered atmosphere.

One of the most important factors in developing larger organ models is cell adhesion. This allows the cells to stick to each other or the material they are embedded in, creating multi-dimensional structures such as organoids and full tissues.

This model will allow WFIRM researchers to delve into the specifics of cell adhesion in determining the overall 3D structure necessary to organ survival.

To prepare for launch, liver and kidney tissue constructs will be bioprinted independently.

To assist in the maturation of the tissues, samples will be placed on flow, continuously exposed to perfused media for either five or 10 days prior to launch. They will then be placed in transparent cell-culture containers that provide a closed system in which to grow the cells while on orbit.

While the research is taking place on the ISS, WFIRM research associates will be monitoring a duplicate set of samples on Earth. These will act as a gravity control and will undergo the same processes as those on the ISS.

The team will be in communication during mission operations conducted on the ISS so the same activity timeline can be applied to the control constructs in the WFIRM lab.

Axiom background

Axiom works with Innovation Quarter tenant RegenMed Development Organization (branded as ReMDO), which is based in Bailey Power Plant. It is dedicated to advancing manufacturing scale-up and automation in regenerative medicine.

Axiom’s co-founder and president, Michael Suffredini, is a former NASA space station program manager.

Components for the Axiom space station are being built about 250 miles above Earth. The Associated Press reported April 8 that Axiom plans to add its own rooms to the ISS in 2024.

The plan is for it to eventually help replace the International Space Station, which NASA plans to decommission in 2031.

Axiom projects it will take until 2029 before it will be able to detach its compartments to form a self-sustaining station — one of several commercial outposts intended to replace the space station, according to AP.

rcraver@wsjournal.com

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@rcraverWSJ

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