Enter your homegrown, functional human tissue in NASA’s Vascular Tissue Challenge, and the space agency may award you some serious wampum for your efforts. The purpose of the challenge is to advance the field of bioengineering, which is indispensable to NASA’s plans to send its astronauts deeper into space.
“Tissue” is defined as a grouping of cells that work together (as organs) to accomplish specific physiological functions. These cells are surrounded by blood vessels, which provide nutrients to the tissue to keep it happy and healthy. Tissue models, resulting from the challenge, will be exposed to certain space effects, such as radiation, so that researchers can better assess how to minimize the damages of space exploration on healthy human cells.
Of course, applications don’t just extend to the farthest reaches of space; on Earth, the tissue could be used in pharmaceutical testing, disease modeling, and organ transplant research.
Put away the lightning rods, Frankenstein. Vascularized tissue must be grown in a controlled laboratory environment to a thickness of over 1 centimeter. Cells must also maintain a rate of survival greater than 85 percent over a 30-day period. Winning teams must demonstrate three successful trials with a success rate of at least 75 percent in order to nab an award, and all entrants must submit proposals, outlining how they would advance their research via a microgravity experiment aboard the International Space Station.
“The outcome of this challenge has the potential to revolutionize healthcare on Earth, and could become part of an important set of tools used to minimize the negative effects of deep space on our future explorers,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington.
Interestingly, the “for the people, by the people” nature of this challenge is resoundingly hopeful. Half a million dollar prize purse aside, NASA is opening up the doors of its lab work to the masses and, in doing so, is one small step closer to addressing the needs of its astronauts—and one giant leap closer to revolutionizing healthcare as we know it on Earth.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense