Why Is NASA Funding Cool Biotech Stuff?

NASA Centennial Challenges Vascular Tissue Challenge

"The Vascular Tissue Challenge is open and teams that wish to compete may now register. Centennial Challenges is a program of prize competitions to stimulate innovation in technologies of interest and value to NASA and the nation. The Vascular Tissue Challenge is a prize competition with a $500,000 prize purse for teams that can successfully create thick, human vascularized organ tissue in an in vitro environment while maintaining metabolic functionality similar to their in vivo functionality throughout a 30-day survival period. NASA is providing the prize purse. The Methuselah Foundation's New Organ Alliance is the Allied Organization managing the competition."

Keith's 12 June note: I sent NASA STMD AA Steve Jurczyk, NASA PAO, and HEOMD an email inquiry on this Challenge asking: "Can you tell me why NASA is providing $500,000 in award money for a competition to "create thick, human vascularized organ tissue in an in vitro environment while maintaining metabolic functionality similar to their in vivo functionality throughout a 30-day survival period"?

According to this partner organization link referenced by this notice: "Specifically, innovations may enable the growth of de novo tissues and organs on orbit which may address the risks related to traumatic bodily injury, improve general crew health, and enhance crew performance on future, long-duration missions."

That said, is there an existing NASA mission/medical/safety requirement for ISS or NASA's human spaceflight activities to develop such a capability in space - or on Earth? If so can you provide me with the specific justification and the expected specific application of technology developed from the results of this challenge? When is this capability planned for implementation in space? Is NASA's participation in the topic of this specific challenge reflected in existing NASA plans for human health and countermeasures research? If there is no specific plan to implement this technology on space missions, can you explain why NASA is spending half a million dollars on research that is clearly much more relevant to NIH's or DoD's respective research portfolios? How (specifically) is this line of research "of interest and value to NASA"? This research has a clear overlap with the biotech research being conducted by the ISS National Laboratory. Is CASIS involved in this challenge?

As a biologist and former NASA life science division employee I am both intrigued and puzzled by this announcement."

Keith's 13 June update: By coincidence CASIS announced yet another cool biotech challenge today. Organs-on-chips have broad utility on Earth and in space - within and outside of space research. Cool, cutting-edge stuff, yes? But the rest of NASA (most notably NASA's Centennial Challenges) makes no reference to the CASIS biotech challenge announcement - and CASIS makes no announcement of the STMD Vascular Tissue Challenge. And NASA HEOMD does not mention either despite obvious linkages to human health and disease. So I forwarded this to the folks at STMD and HEOMD and asked if there is an agency-wide strategic plan that governs things like this. i.e. who does what - and why.

CASIS Announces $1 Million In Grant Awards For Organs-On-Chips Challenge

"The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) announced it has awarded $1 million in grant funding to two research entities stemming from its 3D Microphysiological Systems for Organs-On-Chips Grand Challenge. CASIS is the organization tasked with managing and promoting research onboard the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory."

Keith's 13 June update: Here's the response I got from Sarah Ramsey at NASA PAO:

"Thanks for your questions about the Vascular Tissue Challenge. NASA's long term interests include the use of vascularized tissues for the study of environmental effects (like radiation) and testing of potential mitigation strategies needed for long term deep space missions. The challenge could potentially advance research on human physiology, fundamental space biology, and medicine taking place both on the Earth and the ISS National Laboratory. Research has demonstrated potential enabling benefits of microgravity on tissue engineering technologies. Specifically, new technology innovations may enable the growth of de novo tissues and organs in orbit which may address the risks related to traumatic bodily injury, improve general crew health, and enhance crew performance on future, long-duration spaceflight missions.

One goal for this challenge is to begin to expand the knowledge of the potential enabling benefits of spaceflight on tissue engineering. Another goal is to use the tissues developed from this challenge to support human exploration of space as well as to investigate the potential role of microgravity to develop larger and more medically useful engineered tissues for terrestrial as well as NASA benefit. Teams are asked to create a spaceflight experiment concept to draw the connection between spaceflight research opportunities and the laboratories who may be interested in future experiments on the International Space Station National Laboratory. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) will be using these concepts to evaluate teams that may receive an additional award to actually take an experiment that would advance their research in tissue engineering to the space station. Here's the news release we sent out today on the challenge: http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-challenge-aims-to-grow-human-tissue-to-aid-in-deep-space-exploration"

My response:

"Thanks but with all due respect you have simply expanded upon what is in the materials that I cited. I asked for "specific" requirements, justifications, applications, dates, etc. Also: these "goals" you mention - can you cite the NASA plan/document/requirement that they come from? I also asked why this is not being done by NIH or DoD.

Is there an agency-wide plan that guides the selection of these topics for Challenges? If so, can you provide me with a copy of that plan? If there is not an agency wide plan can you provide me with the STMD plan that is used to guide the selection of these Challenges? How does NASA decide what it needs and when it needs it? How does NASA make certain that there is not duplication of efforts?

When I helped manage life science activities such as this at NASA we had a plan - with a title, revision page, table of contents, timelines, roles and responsibilities, requirements, traceability matrix, goals/objectives etc. (Again) is there such a publication/document that guides NASA's life science-related challenges - among directorates and field centers - and how they relate to overall NASA biomedical, crew health, space biology, and biotech applications? "

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on June 13, 2016 8:26 AM.

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations was the previous entry in this blog.

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