Video transcript: 3D cell culture set for space

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January 2014

Video shows rocket launching into space.

It's many people's dream to blast off into space, and scientists are no different. But if you can't get yourself into space to enjoy these stunning views, then surely the next best thing is to see your work go into orbit.

Video shows the International Space Station orbiting the Earth and scientists working onboard the space station.

That's what happened to Professor Stefan Pryzborski when it was announced that experiments using technology he's developed using funding from BBSRC will be blasting off to the International Space Station in 2014.

Video shows Professor Pryzborski working in the laboratory.

For years, Professor Pryzborski from Durham University and colleagues have been working on better ways to culture cells here on earth. As you can see in these images, growing cells in a laboratory forms a fundamental basis in modern biology, supporting everything from novel drug design to growing human tissues for use in research and development.

Video shows how cells are grown in a Petri dish.

But there are limitations to existing cell culture techniques when they are confined to the two dimensions of the familiar Petri dish. You can see here that when cells are grown in this way they can end up as flattened structures and do not function the same as they do in a real organism. 

It's a major limitation, and one that scientists have lived with for too long.

So with colleagues, Pryzborski utilised BBSRC funding and developed a new type of 3D cell scaffold called Alvetex. In 2002 founding a spin-out company – Reinnervate – to market and develop this technology.

Video shows how the 3D cell scaffold works.

The complex 3D architecture of the scaffold that you can see in these images supports cell growth in three dimensions. Cells are never more than 100 micrometres away from the cell culture medium that enables them to grow, just as cells sit in fluid inside real human and animal tissues.

Alvetex provides a way of creating more physiologically relevant and realistic models that could lead to a reduction in the number of animals used for experiments in cancer, ageing and stem cell research.

Video shows a graph illustration to number of scientific research papers on 3D cell culture methods.

This graph illustrates the proliferation of scientific papers on 3D cell culture methods, underlining its importance.

Video shows a photo of Paola Divieti-Pajevic.

Reinnervate now has more than 1500 customers around the world. One of them is Assistant Professor of Medicine, Paola Divieti-Pajevic, based at the Massachusetts General Hospital in the US, and she investigates the complex interactions involved in bone metabolism.

Scientists working with Paola have successfully used Alvetex to culture bone cells, known as osteocytes, in 3D to better mimic the growth conditions in real organisms.

Video shows scientists working onboard the International Space Station.

Her group have received funding from the US National Institutes of Health and NASA and – all going well – will perform experiments on the International Space Station in late 2014. The researchers will culture osteocytes in bioreactors during the ISS mission – the first 3D osteocyte cell culture experiments in microgravity. Their long-term aim is to understand the mechanisms of bone loss that occurs during prolonged bed rest, microgravity, or in bone-thinning diseases such as osteoporosis.

This work will also expand their ongoing studies into the effects of bone loss during space flight, and teach us about how cells grow, communicate and repair themselves here on Earth, and we'll be coming back to this story as more details of the experiments and their progress can be revealed, from blast off to touch down, through to the final analysis…



This video may be reproduced in its entirety with due credit to BBSRC.

  • First launch footage (c) ESA
  • All other ISS and space footage courtesy NASA Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Centre
  • All Alvetex, lab and cell animations are (c) Reinnervate
  • Music 'Hotrod' and 'Driving' from
  • Bone cell images (c) P. Pajevic lab

Use of Reinnervate's products on the International Space Station does not imply endorsement of the company by NASA, ESA, NIH, Massachusetts General Hospital or BBSRC.