Project Name: MicroAge

Customer: UK Space Agency - under contract to the University of Liverpool

Objective: Understanding of the role muscle environment plays in muscle loss in microgravity and ageing subjects


Astronauts and animals exposed to microgravity during spaceflight rapidly lose skeletal muscle mass and function. Exposure to microgravity therefore has the potential to provide an accelerated model for skeletal muscle ageing, as analogous mechanisms may underlie loss of muscle mass and function in both situations. Although astronauts routinely undertake aerobic and resistance exercise in space to help ameliorate muscle loss, the muscle responses to exercise appear to be attenuated in microgravity.


Since skeletal muscle fibres can be stimulated to contract and adapt to those contractions in cell culture models, this approach has been used to show that ageing causes a failure of adaptation to contractions and is extensively used to study the mechanisms by which this failure occurs. MicroAge aims to study Myotube muscle cells within the confines of the KUBIK facility onboard the ISS. A cell culture approach will be used to determine if muscles exposed to microgravity show a loss of adaptation to contractions. This will require muscle cells in culture to be grown in microgravity, undergo a defined protocol of electrical stimulation to induce repeat contractions and allowed to adapt to this contractile activity under microgravity.


Kayser Space is the industry partner in charge of all space operations related activities and the design, manufacture and qualification of the bioreactor where the muscle cells will be cultured, electrically stimulated and the resulting contraction monitored. The hardware comprises a culture chamber and reservoirs with pumps providing multiple culture chamber refreshes of different media. The muscle cells will be installed in scaffolds within the culture chamber attached to electrodes for electrical stimulation.


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