490 BioTech, a Knoxville-based company built around technology licensed from the University of Tennessee Research Foundation, has received funding from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), a subcontractor for NASA, to deliver its autobioluminescent human cell lines to the International Space Station (ISS).
Over the next several months, the 490 BioTech team will be optimizing its human cell products for use in a drug discovery screening assay that is destined to be carried out in the challenging environment of microgravity on-board the ISS.
“The pharmaceutical industry is heavily invested in exploring new ways to test drugs in microgravity environments, because microgravity allows human tissue to freely grow as a three-dimensional structure that is more representative of how tissues and organs naturally occur in the body,” according to Dan Close, 490 BioTech’s Chief Scientific Officer. “Screening drugs for their ability to eradicate a cancerous tumor, for example, may therefore yield more realistic results when performed in microgravity.”
Astronaut crews on the ISS currently perform similar drug testing screens, but the process is complex and requires multiple hands-on steps to complete. 490 BioTech’s assay is being designed to eliminate many of these steps, thereby saving time and reducing costs.
“The space station is a busy place, and CASIS and NASA have emphasized the need for efficiency in everything the crew personnel do,” Close explained. “By designing an assay that is as hands-free as possible and more complementary to automation, we can hopefully assist in accelerating the pace of new drug discovery while driving down costs to make this technology more attractive to the pharmaceutical industries.”
All components of the assay are expected to be ready by next July for transport on a SpaceX resupply mission to the ISS. Results from the ISS experiments will then be compared to parallel earth-based assays being performed by 490 BioTech to gauge the potential of this technology to better predict how effective new drugs are in treating human disease.