Stem cells in Space: New Research Opens Up Possibility of Space Emigration

As if the recent advances in stem cell therapy aren’t enough, scientists in China are now sending them into space!

Scientists from the Tsinghua University in China will be using China’s first cargo spacecraft to research how gravity affects the development of human embryonic stem cells.

The team lead by Professor Kehkooi Kee will be performing remotely controlled experiments over the next month from earth whilst the spacecraft is in orbit.

The goal is to find out how long it takes to progress from a stem cell to a germ cell, sperm, or egg cell in space, compared to earth. Ultimately the aim is to investigate the feasibility of space emigration, to find out if humans will be able to reproduce in space.

“It’s an important experiment because it is the first step towards directly understanding human reproduction during space exploration,” Kee told Xinhua. “To what extent the human embryonic stem cell can differentiate in space is still unknown. Will the process be delayed? If so, by how much?”

And they won’t be the only team up there researching stem cells.  A team from the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences will study the effects of microgravity on how stem cells multiply and form into cells with different functions.

Embryoid bodies of mice along with embryonic stem cells will be aboard the spacecraft and will be monitored through telescopic images and then compared with identical experiments being done on earth.

 “Maybe scientists will be able to induce stem cells to grow into certain tissues or organs in space in the future to serve people on Earth. If a human is injured and loses organs in future space migration, the lost organs might be regenerated,” research team member Lei Xiaohua told Xinhua.

Space stem cell exploration is expected to continue with plans to culture heart, kindey, liver and spleen tissues on China’s future space station expected to launch by 2022.