Health Beat: Growing stem cells in space: Medicine's next big thing?

Health Beat: Growing stem cells in space

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - 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 when he almost died from a hemorrhagic stroke while at work.

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

He was able to recover, but Dr. Abba Zubair, medical director of transfusion medicine and stem cell therapy at Mayo Clinic, Florida, said not everyone is as fortunate.

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

Zubair said he 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," 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," 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.  

Zubair said 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.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary and an in-depth interview with the doctor

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