Microgravity coupled with increased radiation exposure aboard the ISS provides a unique environment to simulate and study response to injury, inflammatory signaling, aging, and (pre-)malignant transformation of normal human hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in an accelerated timeframe. The NASA Twins study suggests that genomic, epigenomic, epitranscriptomic, and proteomic changes may detrimentally impact hematopoietic stem and immune cell fitness and induce stem cell exhaustion (Garrett-Bakelman et al., Science, 2019). Moreover, changes indicative of pre-cancer stem cell generation such as increased chromosome translocations and inversions occurred and persisted post-flight. Additionally, a recent publication entitled Multisystem Toxicity in Cancer: Lessons from NASA’s Countermeasures Program found significant similarities between the multisystem physiological toxicities in cancer patients and during spaceflight (Scott et al, Cell 2019). These reports highlight the benefits of studying injury response, changes in mutational profiles and cancer evolution in microgravity at the stem cell level.

For this study, we designed a novel bioreactor system to support the culture of donor-derived human HSCs in low Earth orbit (LEO). A sponge matrix and stromal cells model the microenvironment HSCs reside in within the bone marrow niche. Testing on Earth confirmed our system’s ability to maintain stem cell fitness over several weeks. To assess stem cell physiology in LEO over time, we lentivirally transduce a reporter into the HSCs pre-flight (Pineda et al., Scientific Reports 2016), which allows for cell cycle tracking via fluorescence imaging. This will provide data for assessment of stem cell health, maintenance and functionality. Furthermore, we will be analyzing mutational status post-flight, with a focus on signatures we have previously connected to (pre-)malignant transformation via RNA sequencing analysis (Jiang, Cancer Cell 2019). Our bioreactors are scheduled to launch as part of the SpaceX CRS-24 mission on Dec 21, 2021. This investigation may provide valuable insights into the maintenance of hematopoietic stem cell health and functionality, response to injury through accumulation of mutations and, eventually, the mechanisms fueling long-term (pre-)malignant transformation into leukemia stem cells.

Citation Format: Luisa Ladel, Jessica Pham, Isabelle Oliver, Larisa Balaian, Catriona HM Jamieson. Assessing hematopoietic stem cell fitness within a nanobioreactor in microgravity [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2022; 2022 Apr 8-13. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2022;82(12_Suppl):Abstract nr 3154.