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Embryonic Stem Cells Go to Space!

Jan 13, 2016 1:00:32 PM / by Karina Palomares

 mESC experiments were performed inside the “Cell Culture Module” on space shuttle Discovery. Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.orgA study performed on the NASA space shuttle Discovery showed that microgravity inhibits the regenerative potential of embryonic stem cells.

Since the discovery of stem cells, NASA researchers have been interested in how they are influenced by space travel. Exposure to microgravity often causes the breakdown of tissue and function, which poses serious challenges to the health of astronauts in space. Astronauts experience muscle atrophy, bone density loss, and slower heart rates in orbit. Affected tissues often rely on tissue-specific stem cells for regeneration and repair. Thus, studies examining the maintenance of tissue regenerative health during spaceflight are critical.

A collaboration between NASA’s Ames Research Center and the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program led to “Space Tissue Loss” experiments studying the effects of microgravity on the growth and health of regenerative tissues in space [1]. Experiments were performed inside the “Cell Culture Module” on space shuttle Discovery. The Cell Culture Module is a completely automated, temperature-controlled system that is designed to support cell growth in space.

To study the effects of space travel on stem cells and development, the researchers studied the differentiation potential of mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) using an embryoid body (EB) model. When mESCs are cultured on ultra-low adhesion surfaces in the absence of a pluripotency growth factor, they form 3D aggregates that differentiate into specialized cell types of the three embryonic germ layers. In their study, they found that during spaceflight, mESCs demonstrated reduced differentiation into specialized cell types. Instead of turning on specific differentiation markers, they shifted more toward an undifferentiated phenotype even when provided with the signals to differentiate. When the cells resumed culture on Earth, they demonstrated greater stemness and enhanced differentiation capacity.

The findings of this study indicate that, although microgravity inhibits mESC differentiation potential, it also preserves stemness. HemaCare provides different types of stem cells for your research purposes.


[1]          Blaber, E. A. et al. Microgravity Reduces the Differentiation and Regenerative Potential of Embryonic Stem Cells. Stem cells and development 24, 2605-2621, doi:10.1089/scd.2015.0218 (2015).

Topics: Regenerative Medicine, Stem Cells

Karina Palomares

Written by Karina Palomares

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