BioChip SubOrbitalLab: An Automated Microfluidic and Imaging Platform for Live-Cell Investigations in Microgravity

PI: Daniel O'Connell, Michael Franklin (Co-I), HNu Photonics LLC

Understanding the effect of microgravity on human physiology is critical for long-term space flight. Currently, there are limited facilities onboard the ISS National Lab that are capable of real-time live-cell interrogations in a microgravity environment. Unfortunately, most on-orbit investigations are restricted to “end-point” types of research experiments for protein or RNA expression at a single, discrete time-point. In order to fully understand the effects of microgravity on cell function, researchers need the ability to monitor subcellular processes in real-time to identify, characterize and quantify the transient, yet significant cellular responses to microgravity. The BioChip SubOrbitalLab (BCSOL) is being developed to offer government, academic and industry researchers the ability to observe cell function in real-time for the duration of a sub-orbital flight. This project will validate and demonstrate the BCSOL system with two sub-orbital flights on Blue Origin’s New Shepard platform. These two flights will provide validation for BCSOL sub-systems and demonstrate BCSOL’s live-cell imaging research capabilities.

Technology Areas (?)
  • TA06 Human Health, Life Support and Habitation Systems
Problem Statement

BCSOL is composed of three sub-systems: Imaging, Microfluidics and the BioChip. This project supports the testing and validation of all three sub-systems. Briefly, two BioChip prototypes will be tested for their ability to support healthy cell cultures and promote optimal fluid mixing upon automated delivery into each BioChip well. Both BioChips will have a 2-well geometry, however one BioChip will characterize fluid mixing without hollow fibers while the other will utilize hollow fibers to reduce fluid flow velocity and, therefore, fluid shear stress on live-cell cultures. Furthermore, the proposed experiments will demonstrate that BCSOL is capable of characterizing neuron morphology and microglia phagocytosis in real-time with fluorescence microscopy utilizing the Imaging sub-system.

Technology Maturation

The test flights will achieve the following objectives to advance BCSOL from TRL-4 to TRL-7: 1) validate BioChip designs to maintain a healthy cell culture environment and characterize cell function through launch, microgravity and return, 2) validate microfluidic manifold design for automated fluid delivery while in microgravity, 3) quantify fluid mixing dynamics in microgravity and 4) validate flight durability of all components.

Future Customers

BCSOL will offer government, academic and industry investigators the unique capability of assaying live-cell processes during sub-orbital flights to advance our understanding of microgravity on human physiology.

Technology Details

  • Selection Date
    REDDI-F1-16B (Jan 2017)
  • Program Status
  • Current TRL (?)
    Successful FOP Flights
  • 1 sRLV

Development Team

Web Accessibility and Privacy Notices Curator: Alexander van Dijk Responsible NASA Official: Stephan Ord Last Update: November 16, 2018