Washington, DC, United States

Lisa Freed and Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, both of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have taken the first steps toward engineering heart muscle tissue that could one day be used to patch damaged human hearts. Cells isolated from very young animals are attached to a three-dimensional polymer scaffold, then placed in a NASA bioreactor. The cells do not divide, but after about a week start to cornect to form a functional piece of tissue. Here, a transmission electron micrograph of engineered tissue shows a number of important landmarks present in functional heart tissue: (A) well-organized myofilaments (Mfl), z-lines (Z), and abundant glycogen granules (Gly); and (D) intercalcated disc (ID) and desmosomes (DES). The NASA Bioreactor provides a low turbulence culture environment which promotes the formation of large, three-dimensional cell clusters. The Bioreactor is rotated to provide gentle mixing of fresh and spent nutrient without inducing shear forces that would damage the cells. Due to their high level of cellular organization and specialization, samples constructed in the bioreactor more closely resemble the original tumor or tissue found in the body. NASA-sponsored bioreactor research has been instrumental in helping scientists to better understand normal and cancerous tissue development. In cooperation with the medical community, the bioreactor design is being used to prepare better models of human colon, prostate, breast and ovarian tumors. Cartilage, bone marrow, heart muscle, skeletal muscle, pancreatic islet cells, liver and kidney are just a few of the normal tissues being cultured in rotating bioreactors by investigators. The work is sponsored by NASA's Office of Biological and Physical Research. The bioreactor is managed by the Biotechnology Cell Science Program at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC). Credit: MIT


  • Title: Microgravity
  • Date Created: 2001-05-15
  • Rights: MSFC
  • Album: rlobrie1

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