BY EDDIE KIM – The final launch of the space shuttle Atlantis marked a momentous occasion for not only NASA, but also a group of Hawaii-based scientists on the cutting edge of stem cell research.
Hawaii-based Tissue Genesis, Inc., which specializes in adult stem cell experimentation and regenerative medicine, won a bid from the government to develop a system for adult stem cell experimentation that the shuttle could take into space. The group’s involvement with NASA and the final launch was part of a larger collaboration for government-funded tissue science, which included other major companies such as Lockheed Martin.
According to Tissue Genesis, Inc. president and co-founder Anton Krucky, one of the primary responsibilities of the company was to provide the stem cells for the project. This was possible due to their proprietary stem cell isolation technology, which automatically separates stem cells and other regenerative cells from human fat tissue.
Krucky said that the NASA collaboration could go far in finding out more about how adult stem cells work.
“We’re looking at how to use stem cells to correct regenerative processes in the human body,” he said. “But how we understand those cells today is only within the context of a gravity environment. The idea of this project is to further examine how those cells work in a microgravity environment.
“What we see currently is that in microgravity, these cells aren’t as vibrant and don’t provide the same amount of regeneration [as in an environment with greater gravity],” Krucky continued. “So this could be a big issue on a long-term space mission. You want to understand what can be done to maintain the regenerative process [in space]. What if an astronaut has a wound, or another physical problem? Are there cell therapy tools we can to mitigate that? This is the issue at hand.”
The observations will occur in Tissue Genesis’s “cell culture module”, a self-contained piece of equipment carried by the space shuttle that will allow scientists in the space station to conduct experiments in a controlled environment at all times.
But with the future of the national space program uncertain in this critical period of economic distress, it might be fair to believe that treating astronauts for regenerative problems is not a great priority when it comes to stem cell research. However, Krucky says that this particular project has greater implications beyond just application of regenerative medicine in space.
“We can use the observations from the space project and as a company can use that new knowledge as we go forward in our projects here, on people, in clinical trials. And the results from this experiment will go many different ways. The Department of Defense, for instance, is very interested in the results and how they can apply to our soldiers, both in short-term and long-term injuries.”
In fact, it was the Department of Defense that provided an undisclosed amount of primary funding for the tissue science collaboration with NASA. The DOD also contributes funding to Tissue Genesis, Inc. in general as well, which is also funded through private investors.
For Krucky, the day marked a new highlight for the company, which “always aimed to help the islands” in their pursuit of stem cell research.
“It’s the greatest thing…our team and our scientists, who are so young and really represent Hawaii on the leading edge of technology in this field, hit a home run,” Krucky said. “As I see this happen, it’s a kind of vision, an ambition, unfolding for the future.”
And as he watched the space shuttle lift off into the sky one last time in an gargantuan blast of flame and smoke and noise, Krucky couldn’t help but be awash in one emotion in particular:
“I couldn’t be prouder,” he said with a laugh.