Image: International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Thanks to a new grant from the NIH and the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), a research team led by UW Bioengineering Associate Professor Deok-Ho Kim will contribute to research aimed at understanding the effects of space flight on human health. This work could inform the development of therapies and interventions that can help keep astronauts’ hearts healthy during space travel, and advance solutions for patients suffering from cardiac dysfunction here on Earth.

Associate Professor, Deok-Ho Kim (center) working with students in his lab

Dr. Kim will serve as principal investigator of the 4-year, $3.2M grant. He will work with UW team members Nathan Sniadecki, an associate professor of mechanical engineering; Eun Hyun Ahn, a research assistant professor of pathology; and Alec Smith, an acting instructor of bioengineering. The team will  work with Peter Lee, a cardiac surgeon and assistant professor of surgery, and space flight experiment veteran, at Ohio State University. They will also collaborate with instrumentation partner BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado Boulder.  For over 30 years, BioServe has collaborated with countless scientists to translate ground-based studies to successful space flight experiments.

This project will be the first to engineer a 3D human stem cell-derived myocardial tissue-on-a-chip to study the effect of microgravity on heart tissue function. The research team will investigate how extended periods in microgravity effect the structure and function of human myocardial tissue, and develop a platform that enables continuous monitoring of cardiac contraction during space flight.

The work funded by the grant will involve two separate missions to the International Space Station. After the missions return to Earth, the research team will recover the flown tissue samples to conduct histology and gene expression analyses.

Projects funded by the NIH-CASIS program provide unprecedented opportunities to study the effect of microgravity on the human body. It has been observed that astronauts exposed to prolonged microgravity experience physiologic changes similar to an accelerated form of aging, such as muscle atrophy, bone loss, reduced cardiovascular function and immune deficiency. Tissue-on-a-chip solutions supported by this unique funding opportunity will enable researchers to study organs’ responses to reduced gravity at the cellular level. The goal of this work is to increase understanding of the effects of aging, and identify molecular targets that could slow down this process.

Learn more about NIH-CASIS: Tissue Chips in Space

Visit the Kim Lab’s website