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A team of researchers from the University of Luxembourg has been working on the BRAINS project for a year and will soon take a giant leap by sending human cell samples to space.
In the context of this project, human skin cells were grouped into a 3D model and these cell cultures, also known as organoids, are designed to imitate the human brain. Thanks to a contest, the research team will soon be able to send their models to the International Space Station (ISS) where they are to remain for a duration of 30 days.
This represents both an opportunity and a challenge, says team leader and doctoral candidate Elisa Zuccoli. 11 March is the launch date and the researchers hope to study the cells' reaction to the particular conditions of space.
Zuccoli explains: "We expect them to grow bigger than they are here on Earth, which will hopefully provide us with an improved structural overview and information on cell structures."
In the long run, the team hopes to use the data to help develop new medication to treat Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, among other things.
Since conditions in space significantly differ from those in the lab, the team has to prepare its samples accordingly. Zuccoli notes: "We had to scale down everything and ensure that our cells survive the 30-day spell on the ISS."
A special container will carry the samples and regulate conditions so that cells are provided the necessary nutrients and remain at the right temperature (37°C) throughout the journey.
The team now looks towards launch date with great anticipation and hopes that everything will go according to plan. Potential complications were already addressed as part of the mission preparation.