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CASIS Announces Grant Awards for Stem Cell Research

Published on Tuesday, October 15, 2013

CASIS Announces Grant Awards for Stem Cell Research


KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL. (October 15, 2013) The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the nonprofit organization responsible for managing and promoting research aboard the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, has announced grant awards for seven researchers focused on non-embryonic stem cell biology. The award amounts total over $2 million. CASIS continues to facilitate groundbreaking research through solicitations for proposals that are designed to expand the knowledge of the scientific community and advance research processes, technologies and treatments.

These winning experiments were chosen from among numerous submissions in response to the CASIS Request for Proposals titled “The Impact of Microgravity on Fundamental Stem Cell Properties.” Stem cells are cells that have not yet completed differentiation, the change that occurs when cells and tissues become more specialized in their functions. They display remarkable plasticity in their ability to give rise to a spectrum of cell types and ensure life-long tissue rejuvenation and regeneration. Each experiment will use the unique microgravity environment aboard the space station to conduct experimentation that could produce tremendous health benefits for humankind – via advancements in drug screening, tissue engineering/regeneration, cell replacement therapy and cell reprogramming. 

The award recipients and winning proposals are as follows:

Dr. Carl Gregory from Texas A&M Health Science Center, in collaboration with Drs. Roland Kaunas and Jun Kameoka from Texas A&M Departments of Biomedical and Electrical & Computer Engineering, will develop a system for co-culturing and analyzing stem cells mixed with bone tumor cells in microgravity. 35–50% of cancers metastasize to bone, and this system will allow identification of potential molecular targets for drugs specific to these types of cancer.

Dr. Joshua Hare, from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, will examine the growth and differentiation of cardiac stem cells in simulated microgravity, toward the development of novel, less invasive and less expensive stem cell therapy for use in individuals with heart failure.

Dr. Mary Kearns-Jonker from Loma Linda University will study aging of neonatal and adult
cardiac stem cells in microgravity, toward improving cardiac cell therapy.

Dr. Robert Schwartz from the University of Houston, in collaboration with Drs. Clifford Dacso and Austin Cooney, both from Baylor College of Medicine, will examine the effect of simulated microgravity on two critical genes involved in reprogramming fibroblasts into cardiac progenitor cells, toward potential cell therapies.

Dr. Joseph Wu from Stanford University will examine how cardiomyocytes (cardiac muscle tissue) mature and age in microgravity, toward cardiovascular disease modeling, drug screening and cell replacement therapy.

Dr. Chunhui Xu from Emory University School of Medicine seeks to develop small-scale tissue
engineering technology for studying the growth and differentiation of cardiac tissue in
microgravity—toward cardiac disease modeling, drug discovery and toxicity testing, and ultimately cell replacement therapy.

Dr. Abba Zubair from the Mayo Clinic will use the microgravity environment to grow stem cells
that are of sufficient quality and quantity to use in the treatment of patients with stroke, which is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. The results may also have downstream applications in broad tissue engineering/regenerative medicine efforts.

CASIS President and Executive Director Col. Gregory H. Johnson is encouraged by the implications of the awarded experiments: “In addition to having strong clinical significance, the awarded proposals have the potential to demonstrate the proof-of-concept that is needed to attract commercial customer base for the use of the National Lab for stem cell biology.”

CASIS is continuing to maximize the functionality of the National Laboratory aboard the space station by identifying and interacting with commercial, academic and governmental entities that could use the lab for terrestrial benefit.

For additional information about CASIS opportunities, including instructions on submitting a proposal, continue to check the CASIS solicitations site:

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About CASIS: The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) was selected by NASA in July 2011 to maximize use of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory through 2020. CASIS is dedicated to supporting and accelerating innovations and new discoveries that will enhance the health and wellbeing of people and our planet. The CASIS goal is to bring the magic of space down to earth. For more information, visit


About the ISS National Laboratory: In 2005, Congress designated the U.S. portion of the International Space Station as the nation's newest national laboratory to maximize its use for improving life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users and advancing STEM education. This unique laboratory environment is available for use by other U.S. government agencies and by academic and private institutions, providing access to the permanent microgravity setting, vantage point in low earth orbit and varied environments of space. The ISS National Laboratory Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center currently facilitates research initiatives on board the station’s National Lab, but management of America’s only in-orbit laboratory is transitioning to CASIS.

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