Stem Cells In Space

Prof. Dan Gazit

The space shuttle Endeavor that will be launched into space Monday from the United States will not only mark the end of the era of NASA shuttle launches but also be the closing of a circle for Prof. Dan Gazit of the Skeletal Biotechnology Laboratory of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The shuttle will carry, among other things, an experiment in bone cells that was borne on the space shuttle that crashed in 2003 over Texas, carrying Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and his colleagues to their deaths.

On the flight with Ramon (who was a good friend of Gazit) was a cell culture device, which contained adult stem cells. The experiment was part of the experimental work carried out by Prof. Gazit, which focused on the regeneration of skeletal tissue by converting adult stem cells into skeletal tissue through genetic engineering. The purpose of the space experiment was to investigate the influence of weightlessness on the function of the stem cells.

Since it is known that astronauts quickly lose bone mass while they are in space – in effect developing osteoporosis – the object of the project was to find those genes that are either active or suppressed in the cells that generate bone and therefore are responsible for the phenomenon, explained Prof. Gazit.

The experiment was to include a comprehensive analysis of thousands of genes within the cells that were in the space vehicle and their comparison to those which were grown in the Hebrew university laboratory. The results could have implications not only for the health of the astronauts but also for others suffering from osteoporosis and those confined to bed rest for extended periods.

After the loss of the cells due to the tragic accident, Prof. Gazit and his colleagues used an alternative technology to mimic weightlessness on earth. The group utilized a dynamic cell culture system that rotates around its axis, generating free-fall conditions for the cells growing inside it. The results of that work were published in the scientific journal Tissue Engineering. In that work, the researchers found that the weightlessness caused the stem cells to change into fat cells and prevented their being converted into bone cells. The results explain why lack of movement or weight can lead to loss of bone boss.

On the space flight that is scheduled to go out this week from the US, this experiment with weightlessness will be replicated by the Fisher Foundation, under actual space conditions, in order to evaluate the mechanism of bone loss in space.

Prof. Gazit’s group is currently working on the development of new treatments based on the use of adult stem cells for rehabilitation of the spine for osteoporosis patients. This method is based on getting the body’s own repair cells to reverse loss of bone mass and to repair the damage from which these patients are suffering, such as spine fractures.

For a primer on stem cells click on Stem Cell Basics for Life Science Researchers

source: Hebrew University


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