For the past 28 years, BioServe Space Technologies has worked to create hardware to support high-impact life science research in space. Funded by NASA and created by researchers at the University of Colorado, BioServe is a leader in designing, building, and deploying microgravity life science research and hardware. BioServe works with researchers from universities, as well as pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to support and facilitate comparative studies done in space—ensuring all hardware and protocols perform well and meet NASA safety requirements.
BioServe Space Technologies scientists have developed innovative hardware that uniquely enables adherent cell culture research on the International Space Station — with assistance from Corning Life Sciences’ technology.
Cell culture research in space is on the rise, but microgravity presents unique challenges
Scientists across industries seek cell culture research on board spacecraft for both fundamental and applied aspects. Microgravity environments can provide unique insights across industries and applications. While cell culture research is becoming a common occurrence at the International Space Station (ISS), it can be difficult to execute due to the differences in the workflow and protocols required in a microgravity environment. Simple procedures like media exchange must be conducted in a closed-loop process. Special hardware is required that meets NASA’s safety requirements and can support cell growth in space.
Tools for successful, safe cell culture in space
The original hardware created by BioServe scientists could not meet all the requirements to support cell culture in a microgravity environment and meet NASA safety standards. Gas exchange and cell adherence in particular, were areas of concern.
BioServe worked on modifying the hardware with several different materials. They first tried a PTFE-based film to improve the fluid containment. It was good for gas exchange but did not support cell adherence. Polystyrene film supported adherence but did not allow appropriate gas exchange. BioServe researchers approached Corning's John So about using their gas-permeable-film technology coupled with the Corning® CellBIND® surface treatment. Corning Technologist and co-inventor of CellBIND, Paul Gagnon spent significant time to develop a specific process for treating inidvidual pieces of the film and made all the samples by hand. This innovative technology— the same employed in Corning HYPERFlask® and HYPERStack® products— ideally balances both aspects in order to safely and successfully culture cells in space. Stefanie Countryman, Business Development Manager at BioServe says, “Corning’s HYPER membrane treated with CellBIND surface was ideal because it allowed gas exchange and supports adherent cell growth.”
Safely performing cell culture in space
BioServe’s unmatched microgravity cell culture hardware—called a BioCell—consists of three anodized aluminum frames with gaskets upon which the film is laid and then secured using screws to hold the unit together, creating a chamber in which the cells are placed. Ports are included in the middle frame for fluid exchange and seeding of cells. Each frame holds 20 mL of fluid. The BioCells are laid flat after seeding to allow the cells to adhere. Researchers conduct the media exchange on the ISS within a microgravity sciences glovebox (MSG), which contains any fluid that leaks during the procedure and prevents contamination. The BioCells offer researchers a fully contained piece of hardware that won’t leak, providing safe and effective cell culture in space. Says Countryman, "CellBIND surfaces make our hardware that much better and that much closer to what happens on Earth and open up the possibilities for cell culture research in space.”