Wednesday, April 20, 2011

NASA's Research Efforts

NASA’s inventors at the Johnson Space Center in Houston have developed a rotating device known as the bioreactor to enable the growth of tissue, cancer tumors, and virus cultures outside the body in space and on Earth. This device has many advantages over typical laboratory methods.

The bioreactor has been used for experiments aboard the space shuttle, the Russian Mir space station and on Earth. Researchers across the U.S. use this technology to study cancer, stem cells, diabetes, cartilage and nerve growth, and infectious diseases.

Lab-grown cell cultures tend to be small, flat and two dimensional but unlike normal tissues in the body. However, tissues grown in the bioreactor are larger and three-dimensional, with structural and chemical characteristics similar to normal tissue. The bioreactor has no internal moving parts, which minimizes forces that might damage the delicate cell cultures.

Researchers at NIH used this method to propagate HIV, in artificial lymph node tissue. This research resulted in being able to study the virus life cycle under controlled conditions outside of the human body.

The bioreactor is a spinoff technology that entered the commercial world when Synthecon based in Houston licensed the device in 1993 and manufactured it for commercial sale. Regenetech Inc. also based in Houston, licensed eleven patents from the Johnson Space Center in Houston in 2001 to produce three dimensional tissues in the bioreactor. Through a special NASA agreement, the bioreactor provides the technology to pursue rare disease treatments. In December 2010, Emerging Healthcare Solutions Inc. acquired a sublicense from Regenetech to use the bioreactor.

Just announced on April 15, 2011, the bioreactor was inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame. Three of the co-developers for commercial use of the bioreactor were also inducted and include Dr. David Wolf, NASA Astronaut, Physician, and Electrical Engineer, Tinh Trinh, Senior Mechanical Engineer, for Wyle Integrated Science and Engineering Group, and Ray Schwarz, Chief Engineer and Co-Founder of Synthecon Inc.

The Human Research Programs located at NASA’s Glenn Research Center has been very involved in developing sensors to monitor astronaut health, and is currently researching advanced fluid systems that will be used to perform medical laboratory tests with reusable devices.

The Glenn Research Center is looking for federal laboratory, academia, or industry partners to collaborate with them on their Human Research Program “Exploration Medical Capability Gaps.” The Center is particularly interested in noninvasive diagnostic imaging capabilities and techniques. For more information, email Laurie Stauber at or call (216) 433-2820.

The Glenn Research Center is collaborating with BioEnterprise, a business initiative designed to grow bioscience companies. The agreement between the Glenn Research Center and BioEnterprise will work collaboratively to further the development and commercialization of life science-related technologies in Northeast Ohio.

A commercial product called vMetrics systems was announced by ZIN Medical Inc., a company jointly owned by ZIN Medical and the Cleveland Clinic. The system provides real-time monitoring of patients through a compact wireless device and can be used in space, military, and commercial applications. The first commercial application is supporting the atrial fibrillation market.

The Ohio Technology Cluster Commercialization Program through the Glenn Alliance for Technology Exchange has launched an initiative to apply biocompatible nanoporous filters for biomedical purposes that can possibly revolutionize the standard of care for kidney disease. The filter design is based in part on work from a John Glenn Biomedical Engineering Consortium project.

In addition, there are several other projects from the Glenn’s Human Research Program that have the potential for commercialization and include:

• A method and system to remotely monitor in real-time via the web, an EKG and other vital statistics of patients without constraining their movement
• A method and apparatus for determining the physical characteristics of the lens and other ocular tissue
• A system that measures oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production to quantify the level of exercise and state of fitness