4. November 2022
Research teams from Berlin and Frankfurt search for answers to immune and muscle diseases in space

Cell­box-3 launch­es biomed­i­cal ex­per­i­ments to the ISS

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Space
Launch of Cygnus NG-18
Launch of Cygnus NG-18
Image 1/5, Credit: NASA

Launch of Cygnus NG-18

The Cygnus space­craft NG-18 launched on 7 Novem­ber 2022 at 11:32 CET (05:32 EST) with the Cell­box-3 ex­per­i­ments on board. The biomed­i­cal re­search will ex­am­ine the be­haviour of im­mune, nerve and mus­cle cells in mi­cro­grav­i­ty.
Bone marrow spheroid under the fluorescence microscope
Bone mar­row spheroid un­der the flu­o­res­cence mi­cro­scope
Image 2/5, Credit: Ryan Sarkar, SHAPE-Team

Bone marrow spheroid under the fluorescence microscope

Un­der the flu­o­res­cence mi­cro­scope, the spheroid – an ar­range­ment of cells that mim­ics bone mar­row – can be seen. A team of re­searchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Frank­furt wants to mea­sure and anal­yse the for­ma­tion and vi­a­bil­i­ty of such three-di­men­sion­al cel­lu­lar spheroids in space as part of their SHAPE ex­per­i­ment.
Preparations for the SHAPE experiment
Prepa­ra­tions for the SHAPE ex­per­i­ment
Image 3/5, Credit: Ryan Sarkar, SHAPE-Team

Preparations for the SHAPE experiment

The SHAPE team is prepar­ing to in­sert the bone mar­row spheroids in­to the ex­per­i­men­tal units. The re­sults of the ex­per­i­ment will help to bet­ter un­der­stand changes in in­nate im­mu­ni­ty to pathogens.
Minilabs the size of smartphones
Mini­l­abs the size of smart­phones
Image 4/5, Credit: Charité Berlin

Minilabs the size of smartphones

The filled mini­l­abs are ready for launch to the In­ter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion. The ex­per­i­ment con­tain­ers are about the size of a mo­bile phone and will be in­stalled in an in­cu­ba­tor af­ter their ar­rival on the ISS.
NEMUCO experiment at the Charité Berlin
NE­MU­CO ex­per­i­ment at the Char­ité Berlin
Image 5/5, Credit: Charité Berlin

NEMUCO experiment at the Charité Berlin

The NE­MU­CO ex­per­i­ment units are filled with nu­tri­ent medi­um and bi­o­log­i­cal cells. The Char­ité Berlin wants to use the ex­per­i­ment to re­search the in­flu­ence of mi­cro­grav­i­ty on mus­cle and nerve cells.
  • Molecular biology experiments from Charité Berlin and Goethe University Frankfurt will be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on 6 November 2022 as part of Cellbox-3.
  • The biomedical research will investigate the behaviour of immune, nevus and muscle cells in microgravity.
  • The aim is to understand the functional mechanisms in order to develop effective therapies against immune diseases and muscle weakness.
  • Focus: Spaceflight, research under microgravity conditions

+++ The Cygnus spacecraft NG-18 launched at 11:32 CET (05:32 EST) with the Cellbox-3 experiments on board +++

The uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft NG-18 is scheduled to launch from the Wallops Island spaceport in Virginia (USA) to the International Space Station (ISS) on 6 November 2022 at 11:50 CET (05:50 local time). Molecular biology experiments for biomedical research from Charité Berlin and Goethe University Frankfurt will be on board as part of the 'Cellbox-3' mission. "With these experiments, the research teams want to investigate the influence of space conditions and microgravity on the behaviour of immune, nevus and muscle cells in order to improve our understanding of basic functions of the human body," explains Michael Becker, Cellbox-3 project manager at the German Space Agency at DLR. "The results should assist the development of effective therapies against immune diseases and muscle weakness for humans on Earth, but also for long-term astronautical missions."

The biological samples will be transported to the ISS in a total of 18 special experiment containers for biological cell cultures. Each of these 'mini-labs' is only the size of a mobile phone. Once they arrive at the space station, the containers will be installed in an incubation facility. With the help of a centrifuge, the cell samples inside can be examined both under microgravity conditions and under gravity conditions typical for Earth's surface. This difference will allow the researchers to better identify how gravity affects the cell cultures. The experiment will only last five days, after which the samples will be secured in place. On 3 January 2023, the Cellbox containers will return to Earth with the CRS-26 Dragon capsule, where they will be studied in the laboratory.

How do nerve and muscle cells interact under microgravity?

With the Nerve-Muscle Co-culture (NEMUCO) experiment, Charité Berlin is researching the influence of microgravity on muscle and nerve cells. The researchers want to investigate the interaction and communication between nerve and muscle cells. Diseases of the muscular apparatus or long-term immobility lead to a considerable decline in the structure and function of connections between muscles and nerves, which has a significant impact on muscle mass and thus on fine motor performance. The protein composition and arrangement under the different gravity conditions will provide the researchers with information about the molecular mechanisms behind muscle control. The findings should assist the development of more efficient methods for treating muscle weakness diseases in humans on Earth.

What are the consequences of microgravity on bone marrow and the immune system?

With the Spheroid Aggregation and Viability in Space (SHAPE) experiment, the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt hopes to gain new insights into the innate immune system using a spheroid of human bone marrow. A spheroid is a three-dimensional arrangement of cells. With SHAPE, the research team wants to measure and analyse the formation and viability of such three-dimensional cellular spheroids in space. The results will improve our understanding of changes in innate immunity to pathogens in humans and serve as a basis for more intensive research into the molecular causes of changes in blood formation in the bone marrow (myelopoiesis).

Medical research with the Cellbox programme

The most recent Cellbox programme was launched in 2011 with the aim of enabling molecular biology and medical research under microgravity conditions. In October 2011, the first sample containers were launched on the SIMBOX mission to the Chinese space station Shenzhou. On board were 17 biological and medical experiments. In April 2014, SpaceX CRS-3 transported the Cellbox-1 mission, containing two experiments to study cancer and immune cells in microgravity, to the ISS. Cellbox-2 researched immune, nerve and cancer cells on the ISS in December 2017. These investigations will now be continued with Cellbox-3.

Cellbox-3 is supported by the start-up yuri GmbH from Meckenbeuren, which, in its role as the hardware developer, is responsible for mission preparation, mission planning and supporting the researchers. Cellbox-3 is being carried out on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR in Bonn with funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).

Contact
  • Diana Gonzalez
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Ger­man Space Agen­cy at DLR
    Strat­e­gy and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
    Telephone: +49 228 447-388
    Königswinterer Straße 522-524
    53227 Bonn
    Contact
  • Michael Becker
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Ger­man Space Agen­cy at DLR
    Re­search and Ex­plo­ration
    Königswinterer Straße 522-524
    53227 Bonn
    Contact
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