Feb. 2 - Researchers at the Mayo Clinic are preparing to test their theory that stem cells grow faster in microgravity. With a grant from an organisation that promotes research aboard the International Space Station, Dr Abba Zubair will send a batch of cells into space where he believes the future of human tissue generation with stem cells may lie. Ben Gruber reports.
Abba Zubair is a medical researcher. He once dreamed of becoming an astronaut but now he's reached a happy compromise. His medical science experiment is about to be launched into space. Zubair, a stem cell researcher at the Mayo Clinic, has been awarded a $300,000 grant to grow stem cells in microgravity aboard the International Space Station. Zubair says that simulated studies have shown that stem cells could potentially grow faster in microgravity than on Earth. He hopes his experiment aboard the ISS will prove it, while also revealing any developmental problems that may emerge. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ABBA ZUBAIR, STEM CELL RESEARCHER, MAYO CLINIC, SAYING: "When cells are stimulated to grow one of the risks is the cells can transform to act more like abnormal stem cells. And do you know what abnormal stem cells is? It's cancer cells. So transformation to become malignant is another factor that we want to look act." While one batch of cells grows in space, another batch will be grown on Earth. Apart from the presence of gravity, the growing environment will be the same. Zubair says this will allow his team to analyse the impact gravity has on stem cell growth. If the initial experiment proves successful, and microgravity proves to be a more suitable environment for stem cell growth, Zubair says the next challenge will be to transform the cells into tissue, and ultimately organs. Zubair envisions a future where replacement organs can be grown in space for people who need a transplant later in life. . (SOUNDBITE) (English) ABBA ZUBAIR, STEM CELL RESEARCHER, MAYO CLINIC, SAYING: "So think about it, you can have a spare heart or liver or kidney stored somewhere in space and you just give a phone call when you need it. So we get your stem cells we grow tissue or organs and keep it for you until you need them." And while that scenario may be decades away, Zubair says the research could have implications for the near future. He says that if stem cells can replicate significantly faster in space, then doctors will be able to treat their patients more effectively here on Earth.