Stem cells are our body’s natural reservoir. We all have stem cells at work inside us. Right now, inside your bone marrow, stem cells are busy making the 100,000 million new blood cells you need every single day! If we are able to completely understand and replicate the science behind these stem cells, then more than half of our health issues stand resolved.
Scientists and medical researchers have been growing stem cells in their research labs since quite some time now. With their ability to isolate and culture embryonic stem cells, and to create stem cells using somatic cell nuclear transfer and other techniques doctors have been able to treat or prevent many diseases and health conditions.
Stem Cells in Space!
Read about the current challenge facing the stem cell industry, before we look into growing stem cells in space.
With more and more research and applications for stem cells in medicine industry, its demand is growing. So one of the major challenges faced now, is to grow enough stem cells for a patient needing a transplant. Stem cells are almost everywhere and currently medical researchers are getting them from the bone marrow, however only five percent of the extracted cells are useable stem cells.
So in order to have them in the number needed for a transplant is a very big challenge. Scientists are trying to grow them quicker, but currently to grow enough cells for a few patients; it takes up to a month or two.
Proposed solution – stem cells in space!
According to Dr. Abba Zubair, medical and scientific director of the Cell Therapy Laboratory at Mayo Clinic in Florida, the growth of stem cells in space depend a lot on the environmental factors.
On earth it takes a much longer time to generate stem cells due to more gravitational pull.
Dr Zubair and his team had carried out experiments on Earth using microgravity and the results show that stem cells in space — the master cells that produce all organ and tissue cell types — will grow faster, compared to conventionally grown cells. In fact this regeneration speed of stem cells in space can be four to five times faster.
When cells divide during the process of the cell division, even the chromosomes segregate and the segregation creates polarization of the chromosomes before the cells divide and this is influenced by gravity. How organs develop, the shape of the organs is all influenced by gravity. So the gravity definitely has an impact on stem cell generation.
Dr Zubair’s main intent for this study is specifically to treat hemorrhagic stroke patients. Hemorrhagic stroke is very devastating; and if it happens, either the affected person comes back completely or dies. The mortality rate is very high and currently there are no options at all for hemorrhagic stroke other than controlling blood pressure and controlling inflammation that the blood causes in the brain. So by growing stem cells in space, Dr Zubair wants to explore the possibility of addressing regeneration of the damaged tissue.
He specifically wants to expand the population of stem cells in space that will induce regeneration of neurons and blood vessels in patients who have suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, the kind of stroke which is caused by blood clot. Dr. Zubair already grows such cells in his Mayo Clinic laboratory using a large tissue culture and several incubators — but only at a snail’s pace.
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), a nonprofit organization that promotes research aboard the ISS, has awarded Dr. Zubair a $300,000 grant to send human stem cells in space to see if they grow more rapidly than stem cells grown on Earth.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed, because if this experiment works then we can have a ready supply of these stem cells in space, we can treat almost any condition, and can theoretically regenerate entire organs using a scaffold.