This award will support research that will contribute new knowledge related to bioengineering in Space. The International Space Station US National Laboratory will host a Virtual Symposium to strategically partner with approximately 50 diverse scientists, engineers, and clinicians. This collaboration will leverage their translational expertise to accelerate the understanding of fundamental science that could lead to biomedical breakthroughs by studying biological phenomena in Low Earth Orbit. The goals of the Symposium are: 1) to leverage translational expertise from scientists, engineers, and clinicians to accelerate our understanding of how biomedical breakthroughs can be developed or tested in space (low earth orbit); 2) produce a written document detailing the results of the discussions. Specifically, this document will identify research areas and findings to propel thought leadership of the low earth orbit environment, and how this work could ultimately lead to clinical translation. This is work for the betterment of humankind and could have significant benefits to the US economy.
The ability to perform research in a microgravity environment provides unprecedented opportunities for fundamental research. Under the umbrella of Regenerative Medicine, four focus areas for the Symposium have been identified: Stem cells; Biofabrication and 3D bioprinting; Organoids/microphysiological systems; Artificial intelligence (AI) and Robotics. Removing the effects of gravity has contributed significantly to the collective fundamental knowledge of cellular behavior, cell-cell interactions, tissue development and regeneration, as well as the aggregate interactions in the context of a whole organism. Pioneering bioengineering experiments on the International Space Station coupled with ground-based studies have demonstrated that microgravity enables the study of novel features not attainable under unit gravity conditions. These include changes to stem cell proliferation rates and differentiation. Printing biological tissues in microgravity also promises advantages in the use of lower-viscosity biomaterials or bioinks and the ability to fabricate diaphanous, intricate structures. These processes are heavily reliant on biomechanical and mechanobiological cues that are affected by the gravitational field. In this way, the International Space Station provides an unprecedented opportunity to advance fundamental research in biomechanics and mechanobiology. The participants of this interdisciplinary workshop will be tasked with determining and then publicly disseminating the roadmap for future advances in microgravity bioengineering. The results will be critical for funders that currently sponsor bioengineering research which relies on reduced microgravity environments. The results will enable these agencies and the researchers they support to appropriately plan for future programs and studies.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.