A drawback for the use of stem cells in medical treatment is their limited supply due to slow rate of growth in conventional laboratories. Dr Abba Zubair of the Cell Therapy Laboratory at Mayo Clinic in Florida believes this problem could be overcome and stem cell generation sped up by conducting the process in space. He will now have the opportunity to put his hypothesis to the test, courtesy of a US$30,000 grant that will see Zubair send human stem cells to the International Space Station (ISS) to observe whether they do in fact grow at a greater rate than on terra firma.

According to the Mayo Clinic, experiments conducted on Earth using microgravity (replication of gravitational field about 250 miles (402.3 km) from Earth’s surface) have shown that these conditions are more conducive to stem cell growth than conventional laboratories.

“On Earth, we face many challenges in trying to grow enough stem cells to treat patients,” says Zubair. “It now takes a month to generate enough cells for a few patients. A clinical grade laboratory in space could provide the answer we have all been seeking for regenerative medicine.”

In his laboratory in Florida, Zubair currently grows cells that induce the regeneration of neurons and blood vessels in sufferers of hemorrhagic strokes. He believes that if these cells were generated in space instead, their population would increase rapidly, allowing for treatment of a wide variety of conditions.

“If you have a ready supply of these cells, you can treat almost any condition, and theoretically regenerate entire organs using a scaffold,” says Zubair.

The next step for Zubair is to work with engineers at the University of Colorado to build a specialized cell bioreactor, which they hope will be taken to the ISS within a year to begin the experiment.

Dr. Zubair outlines his plans in the video below.

Source: Mayo Clinic