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UConn team part of International Space Station research

A team from the University of Connecticut is conducting research with the International Space Station to investigate regenerative tissue growth in micro-gravity, which could aid in future osteoarthritis treatments and space travel.

Associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Connecticut, Professor Yupeng Chen, has made headlines in recent months for the research he and his team have done on regenerative tissue growth for cartilage in joints. Chen is the project’s Principal Investigator and holds 10 US patents and 14 international patents in Janus Base nanotechnology, the material being used for this project’s research. 

Chen’s lab designs and develops the DNA-inspired Janus base nanomaterial or JBNs for various biomedical purposes. The Janus bases used for this project include the Janus base nanopiece (JBNp) and Janus base nano-matrix (JBNm). As Chen describes it, the JBNp is the delivery device for DNA to grow, and the JBNm serves as the scaffolding or structure to which cells can stick and grow. For this specific project, the scaffolding structure will promote cartilage growth and repair.

“What we do is we use our nanomaterial — Janus Base nanomaterial — as a scaffold to support the stem cell adhesion growth to regenerate cartilage tissue,” says Chen.

Professor Chen and his team of researchers have previously received backing from the International Space Station for their project to be sent to space to continue their investigation of regenerative cartilage tissue growth in a microgravity setting. 

“In space, since there are these microgravity conditions, a lot of their (astronauts) tissues experience deterioration, including their muscle, their bone, and their cartilage. And usually, when astronauts return to earth, their bodies can repair themselves. Cartilage is a tissue that lacks regenerative ability, so when they return, their cartilage doesn’t regenerate very well, and many astronauts suffer from arthritis.”

Chen says the project will possibly serve as a foundation for a solution for long-term space travel if all goes well. While this is a long-term objective, if the project is successful, it can help millions of people living with arthritis in the short term. 

Chen and his team will be here on Earth, guiding the astronauts through the experiment in real-time so they can produce the necessary samples correctly for the project. If all goes well with the takeoff and the experiments in space, Chen says they should expect to receive their samples back from space in early summer of 2024. 

The project has been two and a half years in the making and Chen’s team is excited and proud to see their idea finally come to fruition as an ISS-funded project and is very confident in the science; having repeatedly experimented with the material, Chen does not see any problems arising from sending their initial samples to space. 

Arthritis is extremely common, with close to one in five US adults having doctor-diagnosed arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, involves the wearing away of cartilage in joints. This is detrimental to joint health as cartilage cannot repair itself once it is damaged and worn out. 

This article first appeared on Connecticut Inside Investigator and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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