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10.17.2013

Joshua Hare Wins Grant to Take Stem Cell Experiments to Space

Through his groundbreaking research that showed stem cell therapies repair damaged hearts, the Miller School’s Chief Science Officer Joshua Hare, M.D., already shattered the earthly view that heart muscle cannot rejuvenate. Now, armed with a new grant from the organization that manages research aboard the International Space Station, Hare is ready to expand his stem cell therapy research to the final frontier – outer space.

Hare, the founding director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute and the Louis Lemberg Professor of Medicine, is among seven stem cell researchers across the nation who this week were awarded up to $300,000 each for the opportunity to use the space station’s unique environment to explore “the impact of microgravity on fundamental stem cell properties.”

“We believe that microgravity could play an important role in generating new heart muscle,” Hare said. “We are thrilled that this grant gives us the opportunity to test that theory.”

Until NASA certifies Hare’s CASIS proposal, “The Effects of Modeled Microgravity on c-kit+ Cardiac Stem Cell Division and Differentiation,” as “flight-capable,” he and his team will conduct ground-based experiments comparing c-kit+ cardiac stem cells cultured in normal gravity to the same cells grown in a three-dimensional rotary cell culture system, which simulates microgravity. Part of the grant will be used to purchase the 3-D system.

The investigators assume that a 3-D microgravity environment will enhance the survival, migration, proliferation, and commitment of c-kit+ cardiac stem cells, which are identified and isolated by their c-kit+ marker, to myocardial lineages, giving them a greater ability to turn into heart muscle and reverse damage from heart attack and heart failure.

“In our work, we have discovered that mechanical forces and 3-D architecture play important roles in stem cell biology and, for these reasons, we hypothesize that the three-dimensional microgravity environment will enhance the survival and proliferation of cardiac stem cells, offering opportunities not only to enhance production of cardiac stem cells for therapeutic purposes, but to understand the medical implications for individuals spending prolonged periods in microgravity,” Hare said.

A pioneer of stem cell therapies for heart attack and heart failure, Hare led the seminal studies that showed that injecting bone-marrow derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) from either the heart patient or a donor during bypass surgery could do what cardiologists were long taught was impossible: repair damaged hearts, and restore heart function.

In a more recent paper, published in the journal Circulation, Hare and his team demonstrated in a large animal model that injecting a mixture of MSCs and cardiac stem cells (CSCs) into the area surrounding an infarct reduced scarring twice as much as using MSCs or CSCs alone. The combination, which also led to an even greater increase of restored heart function, will soon be slated for clinical trials in humans.

Now Hare and his team hope the unique microgravity environment of the International Space Station will shed new light on how mechanical forces influence the generation of new heart muscle from CSCs, leading to the development of novel, less invasive, and less expensive stem cell therapies for people with heart failure.

“Doing so,” they wrote in their grant proposal, “we hope, will help us achieve our overarching goal: to improve the health of individuals wherever they work, play and live, be that on Earth or in space.”

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