A depiction of the space shuttle docked at the international space station orbiting Earth.

UConn researcher’s work to feature in International Space Station mission – UConn Today

A UConn biomedical engineering professor engaged in pioneering tissue research has won a contract with NASA to manufacture therapeutic biomaterials in low-gravity conditions aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Associate Professor Yupeng Chen and his team of six graduate students and eight undergraduate students will work with astronauts aboard the ISS to conduct experiments to advance in-space manufacturing concepts for the production of potentially biomaterials. marketable for use in therapeutic and regenerative treatments here on earth for arthritis, cancer and neurological diseases. The $1.86 million contract is one of eight winning proposals submitted in response to a NASA research announcement seeking space production applications for three of 27 planned low Earth orbit (LEO) missions. month.

Chen, who is the project’s PI, will work with two partners – UConn spinoff, Boston’s Eascra Biotech, and Axiom Space, a private aerospace company based in Houston, Texas – to conduct a proof-of-concept study aboard the ISS involving the fabrication of Janus-based nanomaterials (JBN), a family of new biomaterials that mimic DNA. The collaboration combines Axiom’s experience in spaceflight operations and space infrastructure development with Eascra’s expertise in advanced biomaterials development and project management, including capital fundraising- risk and the implementation of future product commercialization initiatives associated with the project. Two of the flights will be funded by NASA and one flight will be supported by Axiom’s private astronaut mission in the spring of 2023.

Yupeng Cheng and his team members (photo provided).

“This project will establish a roadmap to commercialize the in-space manufacturing strategy of a family of DNA-inspired Janus-based nanomaterials used for tissue regeneration,” Chen said. “Harnessing the advantages of microgravity in the manufacturing process has the potential to provide more ordered JBN structures to achieve better structural integrity and therapeutic outcomes.”

Nanomaterials are ultrafine particles of matter characterized by their small size, typically between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm) in diameter. A nanometer is about one millionth of a millimeter, about 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Materials engineered on such a small scale can acquire unique optical, magnetic, electrical, and other properties with enormous potential impact in electronics, medicine, and beyond.

For the ISS mission, Chen and his team will focus on their two most promising JBN applications – a Janus-based nanocoin (JBNp™), a delivery vehicle for mRNA and gene editing that can be used to treat disease or produce vaccine with oncology and neurological applications; and a Janus-based nano-matrix (JBNm™), an injectable porous material or scaffold on which cells can adhere and grow. In this case, the scaffold would be used to promote cell growth for tissue repair and cartilage regeneration.

Chen and his team will work closely with ISS astronauts in real time to guide them through the experiments. Samples produced in space will be used in animal testing on Earth to compare therapeutic outcomes associated with space-grown JBNs with those produced on Earth, Chen said. Dr. Cato T. Laurencin, a distinguished professor of orthopedic surgery at the UConn School of Medicine and an expert in biomolecular and regenerative engineering, will act as a consultant and PI on a project subcontract, using his medical expertise to advise the Chen’s team on the potential clinical applications of their technology.

Decades of low-gravity research have laid the foundation for American industry to demonstrate the unique commercial value of space manufacturing, technological advancements and drug development. To date, NASA has provided more than $38 million in seed funding for more than a dozen technologies to enable innovative companies to scale their concepts and drive demand for future markets.

The second and third phases of Chen’s project will focus on using a robotic arm in the manufacturing process and eventually conducting bio-manufacturing processes aboard Axiom’s commercial space station.

“This is a unique project specifically designed to promote low-Earth orbit commercial applications in biomedical technologies that advance medical science and provide new therapeutic solutions currently unavailable on earth,” Chen said. . “I think we will have a product soon. We are getting closer to that goal, and we are closer than ever before.

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