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Aarhus University sending cells into space

Human cells from Denmark will be among the cargo when the next American SpaceX Dragon spacecraft lifts off for the ISS Space Station on 8 April. The research experiment will investigate how cells react to weightlessness. This knowledge can benefit astronauts among others.

New space research can end up helping astronauts who have a tendency to develop cardiovascular diseases during their stay in space. The reason for this is the lack of gravity, leading to low blood pressure and heart rhythm problems, among other things.

"Weightlessness causes our cells to behave differently than when they are affected by gravity. Tests on Earth using simulated weightlessness show that what are known as endothelial cells, which originate from the inside of blood vessels and also regulate blood pressure, develop differently than when they are affected by gravity. This is why we wanted to send these types of cells to the space station to see whether this also takes place in space," says Daniela Grimm, who is professor of space medicine at the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University.

The launch of the rocket is the culmination of many years of work aimed at getting the endothelial cells to the international space station. The experiment should already have been carried out by the Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen on ISS last year, but was postponed by NASA. The cells will now be among the cargo when the unmanned SpaceX Dragon spacecraft lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida with supplies and new research projects for the astronauts aboard ISS.

New knowledge about creating artificial blood vessels

The researchers are also sending the endothelial cells into space to examine their structure during weightlessness. When the cells are grown on Earth in the laboratory, they can only grow two-dimensionally. However, in experiments with simulated weightlessness they grow three-dimensionally, just as cells normally do in the body.

"We are interested in seeing whether the same applies in real weightlessness. If we can learn more about how the cells grow three-dimensionally, we hope that in the long term we may be able to use this to make precursors to artificial blood vessels in the laboratory. When we need to use tissue in operations today, we have to take it from somewhere else on the patient’s body. If we can make it artificially we will have completely new possibilities," says Daniela Grimm.

The cells will return to Earth in May, when they will land in the Pacific Ocean in the Dragon spacecraft. The samples will subsequently be examined. The research is taking place in collaboration with a German team of researchers from Otto von Guericke University in Germany, where Daniela Grimm is also heading the research project. The international research project is supported by Aarhus University, NASA, ESA and the German space agency DLR.

Follow the rocket launch

  • The launch takes place on Friday 8 April at 22:43 Danish time.
  • The launch time can be affected by technical issues and weather conditions.
  • NASA sends regular reports on the rocket launch and its journey to ISS here, and there will be TV transmission here.
  • The researchers' preparations for the launch can be followed on this blog.

Further information

Associate Professor Nils Magnusson
Department of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University
Mobile: (+45) 2680 3022

Professor Ulf Simonsen
Department of Biomedicine, Aarhus University
Mobile: (+45) 6020 2613
us@biomed.au.dk C