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CASIS Announces $1 Million In Grant Awards For Organs-On-Chips Challenge

Published on Monday, June 13, 2016

CASIS Announces $1 Million In Grant Awards For Organs-On-Chips Challenge

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL. (June 13, 2016) –The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) announced it has awarded $1 million in grant awards to two research entities stemming from its 3D Microphysiological Systems for Organs-On-Chips Grand Challenge. CASIS is the organization tasked with managing and promoting research onboard the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory. This announcement builds on today’s White House Organ Summit, for which it intends to inform the public on the increasing access to organ transplants and reducing the organ waiting list.

3D Microphysiological Systems (MPS, also known as organs-on-chips) consist of cells grown on an artificial structure that acts as a scaffold for cells to grow on and build tissue. This funding opportunity sought to support such platform technologies for either fundamental discovery or translational research in microgravity where outcomes may be extrapolated to understanding whole organ response to drug exposure or disease onset and progression. The funding provided to the two award winners will support efforts for a flight project to the ISS National Lab. Below is an overview summary of the winning proposals:

A Microphysiological 3D Organotypic Culture System for Studying Degradation and Repair of Composite Skeletal Tissues in Microgravity Environment

Principal Investigator: Rocky S. Tuan, University of Pittsburgh

In search of medicinal treatments for bone loss, a 3D MPS will be used to test potential therapies related to osteoporosis and other musculoskeletal disorders. This specific MPS model for bone avoids the complexities found in animal modeling, which can be confounded by species-specific responses. The project will study this MPS in microgravity, which induces bone loss, to confirm the protective role of bisphosphonates (a class of drugs currently used to treat osteoporosis) for protection during long-term microgravity exposure. Musculoskeletal diseases (including arthritis, back pain, fracture, osteoporosis, sports trauma, and other ailments) affect more than 50% of adults in the US and nearly 75% of those age 65 and over. If effective, this study hopes to reduce the cost and expedite the process of identifying potential therapeutic compounds for the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders.

Development and Validation of a Microfluidic Lab-on-a Chip to Track Growth and Biomarker Expression in Human Skeletal Muscle Cells

Principal Investigator: Siobhan Malany, Micro-gRx

Micro-gRx will develop a fully automated, multifunctional cell culture platform called “Lab-on-a Chip” to study human skeletal muscle cell growth. This project expands on recent ISS stem cell studies and provides a model for microgravity-induced muscle atrophy, with downstream implications for additional research efforts in micro-scale modeling of musculoskeletal disease. Currently there is a 50% failure rate of tested compounds in clinical trials – much of which has been linked to a lack of accurate preclinical analysis. Micro-gRx will seek to advance microfluidic technologies that better mimic the body’s cells and tissues to provide more accurate models for preclinical drug efficacy and safety screening, which may result in providing novel therapeutics to patients in need and save millions of dollars in failed trials. 

“CASIS congratulates both award winners from this Grand Challenge,” said CASIS Deputy Chief Scientist Dr. Michael Roberts. “The space station is a unique learning platform capable of enhancing knowledge to improve human health, and both of the award winners announced today will leverage microgravity to benefit those suffering from musculoskeletal disease—potentially providing innovations that have the capacity to reverberate throughout the medical community.”

Each award is contingent upon the completion of an agreement between recipient and CASIS on mutually acceptable terms and conditions.

For additional information about CASIS opportunities, including instructions on submitting a proposal, please visit: To learn more about the ISS, including past research, available hardware and facilities, please visit:

About the ISS U.S. National Laboratory and CASIS

In 2005, Congress designated the U.S. portion of the International Space Station (ISS) as the nation's newest National Laboratory to further improve life on Earth, promote collaboration among diverse users, and advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

In July 2011, NASA selected CASIS to maximize use of the ISS U.S. National Laboratory through 2020. Today, CASIS works to make this unique laboratory environment available to U.S. government agencies and academic and private institutions, providing them access to a permanent microgravity setting, a vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme environment of space. For more information, visit

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