The friends are very proud to support a team of students from the University of Luxembourg (2 from the LCSB and 3 from the SnT) who were able to launch their experiment in mid-March aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It took off successfully from the US Kennedy Space Center in mid-March. Below you can already see some pictures from this amazing journey into space. Under the name B.R.A.I.N.S., which means Biological Research using Artificial Intelligence for Neuroscience in Space, you can also follow the team’s progress day by day on Twitter or Instagram.
3D cell culture systems, so-called organoids, have a wide variety of applications in disease modelling (e.g., midbrain organoids are used to model Parkinson’s disease) and drug screening. Currently, research groups are using midbrain organoids and attempting to mimic the human brain under non-physiological aspects. During embryonic development, the human brain develops under free-floating conditions. When grown in the laboratory, the cells are more densely packed than in the physiological human brain. Additionally, the size of the brain organoids is typically limited to 2-3 mm in diameter, which limits their spatial organisation and cell population diversity.
The BRAINS experiment: using microgravity to better understand embryonic development
The BRAINS project will investigate the 3D cellular organisation of human stem cell-derived midbrain organoids grown under microgravity onboard the ISS to create a more accurate scenario. The team will later use artificial intelligence for image feature analysis to compare their findings from the current experiments performed on-ground. For the experiment to be a success, it must take place in a closed environment without the intervention from the ISS crew. That is why the team developed a purpose-built device that automatically supplies the cells nutrients for their growth in microgravity, while keeping the temperature at the level where cells can develop.
The BRAINS team hypothesis that growing the organoids under microgravity conditions will have at least two effects:
- Cells in the midbrain organoids become less densely packed, resulting in a more physiological relevant organisation.
- Spatial organisation and cell population diversity are typically limited to 2-3 mm in diameter on-ground, but midbrain organoids could grow up to larger sizes (< 5 mm diameter) in space.
The team foresees that the growth of the midbrain organoids under microgravity has an immense potential impact on the future pharma industry and regenerative medicine. The findings of this experiment would provide an essential foundation in neuroscience and regenerative cell culture, showing the behaviour of brain cells in space. The project is supported by Yuri GmbH, OrganoTherapeutics SARL, The University of Luxembourg’ LunaLab, the Developmental and Cellular Biology research group at the LCSB and the SpaceR research group at SnT, through the provision of material, know-how, and access to state-of-the-art equipment. In addition, the team would like to thank their sponsors for their generous contribution to the project.