Taconic Biosciences recently completed a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in collaboration with the ISS National Lab, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Bioserve Space Technologies, and Leidos Corporation.
The Rodent Research 8 (RR-8) mission will study microgravity effects on groups of young and old BALB/cAnTac mice. Dr. Gretchen Kusek, Taconic associate director of scientific services, said data has been collected and studies are ongoing.
“As the biospecimens are to be distributed to different researchers to maximize the use of the samples, the research studies and timeframes will vary and can often take more than a year, sometimes longer to analyze and confirm findings,” she told us.
With RR8-related studies underway, Kusek said CASIS and Taconic are preparing the next Rodent Research Reference mission, though study parameters are yet to be defined. Of potential focus could be the effect of genetic background, different age parameters, male versus female responses induced by microgravity, and how these sex effects alter disease onset and progression, she explained.
Preparing mice for flight
To ensure all animals are within the defined mission specifications, Kusek said the process to prepare the mice for flight often takes more than a year of planning.
“When sending cohorts of different ages for spaceflight on a single mission you want to control as many variables as possible when preparing the animals such that they are the same genetic strain, raised in the same environment with the difference in age at the time of launch,” she added.
Taconic Biosciences has participated in several spaceflight missions with NASA since 1985 to investigate the shared physiology between the animal models and humans, as rodents and many other mammals naturally develop several diseases that also affect humans.
“Microgravity-induced effects in rodents and the impact of drugs targeted to treat these effects can be useful for human spaceflight in addition to human conditions on earth associated with aging, osteoporosis, and muscle wasting among others,” Kusek explained.
“Additionally, data collected from rodent research missions can be used on Earth for identification of novel early-stage biomarkers of disease.”
For these reasons, pharmaceutical companies also have taken to space, including Eli Lilly, which was the principal investigator in the Rodent Research-3 mission.