February 29, 2024

Time Traveling Mini-Brains on a Mission to Conquer Space

Muotris space and time traveling mini brains are advancing researchers understanding of how aging affects the brain and changing futuristic ideas into reality.What influenced your decision to collaborate with NASA?I started looking for methods to speed up brain organoid maturation and came across literature suggesting that the activity of human telomeres is modified after exposure to microgravity. In preparation for the upcoming third mission, we fixed the system hardware issues to improve reliability.What are the difficulties of studying organoids in space?We grow the organoids and optimize their survival within a bioengineered, shoebox-sized system that will sustain them throughout the space objective. If we can grow organoids in space for six months and then study them for their vulnerability to Alzheimers, we may be able to observe the presence of disease markers such as tangles and plaques and use the organoids to screen drugs.

Conjuring scenes from a science fiction film, Muotri research studies brain organoids– mini brains obtained from human pluripotent stem cells that show spontaneous neural oscillations, or in other words, simple brainwaves. Muotris space and time taking a trip mini brains are advancing researchers understanding of how aging affects the brain and changing futuristic concepts into reality.What inspired your choice to team up with NASA?I began looking for ways to speed up brain organoid maturation and came throughout literature suggesting that the activity of human telomeres is altered after exposure to microgravity. In preparation for the upcoming third objective, we fixed the system hardware issues to improve reliability.What are the challenges of studying organoids in space?We grow the organoids and optimize their survival within a bioengineered, shoebox-sized system that will sustain them throughout the area mission. If we can grow organoids in area for six months and then study them for their vulnerability to Alzheimers, we might be able to observe the presence of disease markers such as tangles and plaques and utilize the organoids to screen drugs. As we do these things, we get closer and closer to imitating the human brain, in which case the main concern ends up being: Have brain organoids reached a level of consciousness where they are self aware and if so, what is their ethical status?This interview has been modified and condensed for clarity.