Tissue engineering of cartilage, i.e., the in vitro cultivation of cartilage cells on synthetic polymer scaffolds, was studied on the Mir Space Station and on Earth. Specifically, three-dimensional cell-polymer constructs consisting of bovine articular chondrocytes and polyglycolic acid scaffolds were grown in rotating bioreactors, first for 3 months on Earth and then for an additional 4 months on either Mir (10-4-10-6g) or Earth (1 g). This mission provided a unique opportunity to study the feasibility of long-term cell culture flight experiments and to assess the effects of spaceflight on the growth and function of a model musculoskeletal tissue. Both environments yielded cartilaginous constructs, each weighing between 0.3 and 0.4 g and consisting of viable, differentiated cells that synthesized proteoglycan and type II collagen. Compared with the Earth group, Mir-grown constructs were more spherical, smaller, and mechanically inferior. The same bioreactor system can be used for a variety of controlled microgravity studies of cartilage and other tissues. These results may have implications for human spaceflight, e.g., a Mars mission, and clinical medicine, e.g., improved understanding of the effects of pseudo-weightlessness in prolonged immobilization, hydrotherapy, and intrauterine development.
Freed, L. E., Langer, R., Martin, I., Pellis, N. R., & Vunjak-Novakovic, G. (1997). Tissue engineering of cartilage in space. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 94(25), 13885–13890. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.94.25.13885