International Space Station research project will examine microgravity’s effect on heart tissue
A research collaboration between Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso and the University of Texas at El Paso aimed at sending artificial “mini-hearts” to the International Space Station was recently honored with a nomination for a 3D Printing for a Better World Award, part of the 2021 3D Printing Industry Awards.
The research project, designed to better understand how microgravity affects the function of the human heart, did not come up the category winner, but the beat goes on.
The multi-year project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) program, “Collaboration on Tissue Engineering and Mechanobiology on the International Space Station to Benefit Life on Earth.” It brings together TTUHSC El Paso faculty scientist Munmun Chattopadhyay, Ph.D., and UTEP biomedical engineer Binata Joddar, Ph.D. The researchers are collaborating in their Earth-bound labs to create tiny (less than 1 millimeter thick) heart-tissue structures, known as cardiac organoids, using 3 different human cardiac cell lines for cardio-myocytes, fibroblasts and endothelial cells and 3D bioprinting technology.
Dr. Chattopadhyay is an associate professor in TTUHSC El Paso’s Center of Emphasis in Diabetes and Metabolism, part of the Foster School of Medicine’s Department of Molecular and Translational Medicine. Dr. Joddar is an associate professor in the UTEP College of Engineering and leads research in the university’s Inspired Materials and Stem Cell-Based Tissue Engineering Laboratory. NSF/CASIS awarded Dr. Chattopadhyay $256,892 and Dr. Joddar $259,350 for their roles in the project.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the timeline for the cardiac organoids’ spaceflight has been extended. Dr. Chattopadhyay hopes the heart organoids will be launched in early 2023 to the space station, where they will remain for one month.
Currently, Dr. Chattopadhyay and Dr. Joddar are working with their space implementation partner, Space Tango, on preflight logistical planning.
By exposing the cardiac organoids to the near-weightless environment of the orbiting space station, the researchers hope to gain a better understanding of a health condition known as cardiac atrophy, which is a reduction and weakening of heart tissue. Cardiac atrophy often affects astronauts who spend long periods of time in microgravity. A weakened heart muscle has difficulty pumping blood to the body, and can lead to problems such as fainting, irregular heartbeat, heart valve problems and even heart failure. Cardiac atrophy is also associated with chronic disease.
“Cardiac atrophy and a related condition, cardiac fibrosis, is a very big problem in our community. People suffering from diseases such as diabetes, muscular dystrophy and cancer, and conditions such as sepsis and congestive heart failure, often experience cardiac dysfunction and tissue damage,” Dr. Chattopadhyay said.