HealthWatch: Growing Stem Cells in Space: Medicine's Next Big Thing?

By Chelly Boutott, Local 5 News

Published 04/27 2014 11:28PM

Updated 05/01 2014 05:59PM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Hemorrhagic stroke is responsible for more than 30 percent of all stroke deaths. It happens when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain.

It's something Jon Galvan experienced five years ago after he almost died from a hemorrhagic stroke while at work.

"I was typing away and I felt a pop in my head," Galvan told Ivanhoe.

He was able to recover, but Abba Zubair, MD, PhD, Medical Director of Transfusion Medicine and Stem Cell Therapy at Mayo Clinic, Florida says not everyone is as fortunate.

"If it happens, you either recover completely or die," Dr. Zubair told Ivanhoe. "That's what killed my mother."

Dr. Zubair wants to send bone marrow derived stem cells to the international space station.

"Based on our experience with bone marrow transplant you need about 200 to 500 million cells," Dr. Zubair said.

But conventionally grown stem cells take a month. Experiments on earth have shown that stem cells will grow faster in less gravity.

"Five to ten times faster, but it could be more," Dr. Zubair said.

Specifically he hopes to expand the number of stem cells that will help regeneration of neurons and blood vessels in hemorrhagic stroke patients.

"I think this will revolutionize how we treat stroke patients, not only hemorrhagic but even the ischemic stroke, which is much more common," he said.

The stem cells will be taken to the international space station within a year. While one batch of cells is grown in space, another batch will be grown on earth; other than the appearance of gravity the growing environments will be the same. Dr. Zubair says if the lack of gravity proves to be a better environment for stem cell growth, then the next step will be to transform the cells into tissue, and ultimately organs. He envisions a future where replacement organs can be grown in space as well.


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