Heart research to improve astronauts’ quality of life in space

Two cardiovascular tissue experiments were launched to the ISS aboard SpaceX CRS-27.

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As soon as astronauts arrive in microgravity, blood, and other body fluids are pushed “upward” from the legs and abdomen toward the heart and head. This fluid shift causes a decrease in the amount of blood and fluid in the heart and blood vessels, even while astronauts experience swelling in the face and head.

Because spending time in space affects the human heart and circulatory system, much research has been conducted aboard the space station.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station work on research guided by students and researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder.

On March 15, 2023, SpaceX CRS-27 carried out two cardiovascular tissue studies, the hardware for both of which was produced by BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Under their leadership, Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University received funding from the National Institutes of Health for this study.

The two experiments launched on March 15 include specialized hardware developed by BioServe specifically for these projects. They will also utilize BioServe’s Space Automated Bioproduct Lab, an orbiting incubator that has been in use on ISS since 2015.

For the experiment, scientists used simplified heart tissues to test pharmaceuticals that could reduce microgravity-induced changes in heart cell function. The Johns Hopkins initiative, meanwhile, aims to investigate the functional performance of human cardiomyocytes and the potential of particular treatments to mitigate adverse effects.

One of the experiments and its enclosure before launch here on Earth.
One of the experiments and its enclosure before launch here on Earth.

While both projects are intended to help astronauts in space, the research could eventually also improve life for people here on Earth suffering from heart conditions due to aging or abnormalities that lead to a weakening of the heart muscle.

Stefanie Countryman, director of BioServe said“Being able to design the hardware to support research like this for cell cultures and tissue engineering is very specialized.”

“Undergrad and grad students are responsible for assembly of hardware and kit design and helping during uplinks with the crew. Students are an integral part of operations.”

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