Israeli company, NASA partner to study benefits of placenta cells in space

The project is called “Therapeutic Stromal Cells for Health in Space.”

March 6, 2019 18:48
2 minute read.
NASA Juno spacecraft

NASA Juno spacecraft. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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During space missions, astronauts are exposed to a challenging environment that includes radiation and microgravity, leading to muscle and bone loss, as well as other potentially serious medical conditions.

Now, a collaboration between Pluristem, a Haifa-based regenerative medicine company developing novel placenta-based cell therapy product, and NASA’s Ames Research Center is pre-clinically evaluating the potential of Pluristem’s PLX cell therapies in preventing and treating medical conditions caused during space missions, including indications relating to blood, bone, muscle brain and heart.

The project is called “Therapeutic Stromal Cells for Health in Space.”

According to Dr. Ruth Globus of NASA, astronauts can experience up to 20% loss in muscle mass on space flights lasting just five to 11 days. In longer missions, they also lose bone density at a rate of 1% to 2% per month, which can lead to more fragile bones.

Pluristem President Yaky Yanay explained that it is the zero-gravity condition that leads to this muscle atrophy.

“Gravity puts pressure on your muscles, so when you walk or even do simple movements on earth, gravity makes your muscles work,” he said. “In space, it is like when a patient is lying down for a month in a bed without doing any physical activity – the muscles start wasting away.”

Over the past several years, Pluristem completed a randomized, double-blind Phase II study that demonstrated the safety and potential efficacy of its PLX cells in treating muscle injury in the context of hip replacement surgery, among many other related studies.

“As demonstrated in our previous studies, PLX cells have the potential ability to help regenerate muscles, as well as protect and regenerate the hematological system following exposure to radiation,” said Yanay.

“We are intrigued by the possibility that PLX cell therapies can address these and other persistent negative effects of space travel on the human body,” Globus said.

Globus was awarded a 2019 NASA Ames Research Innovation Award (ARIA) for the collaboration with Pluristem. This award invests in highly innovative, exploratory scientific research that directly supports advancing the strategic direction of NASA’s Ames Research Center and NASA. It also promotes the vitality of NASA’s Ames Research Center through strategic investments in scientific research, capabilities and people.

Pluristem’s PLX cells are grown using the company’s proprietary three-dimensional expansion technology and can be administered to patients off-the-shelf, without tissue matching.

“It is an interesting coincidence that the SpaceIL shuttle, Genesis, is in space now, at the same time as Pluristem – supported by the placenta, the genesis of every human life – is about to give new life to space travel,” said Yanay. “We hope to make space travel more physically available for astronauts and eventually for space tourism, too.”

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