19 Dec 2023 Updates

ASTROCARDIA: Sending miniature hearts to space for investigation of accelerated cardiac aging

Contribution from University of Ghent / BIO INX BV

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) remain the leading cause of global mortality, with age-related changes in heart function significantly amplifying the risk and limiting functional capacity. Despite this, the precise triggers behind age-related CVDs remain unknown. An adequate human-derived model for studying cardiac ageing is yet to be established.

Research suggests that exposure to the space environment triggers accelerated cardiac ageing, leading to various heart conditions caused by radiation and microgravity-induced inflammation, DNA damage, senescence, and impaired DNA repair pathways. Although significant strides have been made in 3D bioprinting vascularized cardiac patches, heart organoids, and vascular beds on Earth, the exploration of 3D bioprinted heart tissue in space is still in its infancy.

BIO INX, a spin-off company of Ghent University and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, is part of the ASTROCARDIA project, aiming to develop a human-derived vascularized heart-on-chip model for testing the influence of cardiac ageing in space. To this end, BIO INX is joining forces with four other Belgian partners, being SCK CEN, Space Applications Services, Quality by Design and Antleron.

In order to 3D bioprint a miniature heart-on-chip model, a biocompatible material enabling encapsulation of living cells is a crucial element. BIO INX has the expertise in developing such bioinks for multiphoton lithography, a promising technology capable of printing structures with high complexity thanks to its high resolution. Using this technology in combination with HYDROBIO INX U200, the first commercially available bioink for multiphoton lithography enabling cell encapsulation, heart-on-chip models can be printed. To this end, HYDROBIO INX U200 is mixed with cells, after which the cells begin to form a cardiac organoid.

This study is scheduled for a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2025 for a minimum of six weeks. The results will be evaluated and compared to ground controls in view of developing a model of cardiac ageing. This may offer an alternative way of investigating cardiac ageing and improved therapeutic strategies for personalized medicine on Earth and in space.



University of Ghent
Sandra Van Vlierberghe

Jasper Van Hoorick