Technology developed at the Johnson Space Center in 1992 to study the
effects of microgravity on cell tissue holds renewed promise for
improving life on Earth following the announcement of an unprecedented
private sector investment in the technology by Fisk Ventures, Inc. of
Wisconsin. The announcement was made in a Washington, DC ceremony today
by NASA Administrator, Daniel S. Goldin.

A rotating cell culture apparatus – known as the Bioreactor – is the
centerpiece of a groundbreaking agreement with the private sector to
explore a new frontier in biotechnology, focusing on infectious disease
research and developing a liver-assist device for patients in need of
transplant surgery. Developed by a trio of JSC researchers, Ray P.
Schwarz, Tinh T. Trinh and Astronaut and physician Dave Wolf in 1992,
the Bioreactor makes it possible to grow three-dimensional tissue
cultures and cells that permit researchers to study their structure and
develop new ways to treat disease.

“This is a great deal for the American people,” Goldin said. “It’s a
symbol of the success that can be achieved when government, private
industry and academia work together on the exploration of new frontiers
for scientific, technological and economic growth.”

JSC researchers invented the rotating Bioreactor as a way to study the
impact of microgravity on cellular growth on Earth and in space.
Typically, cells grown in petri dishes on Earth are flat and
one-dimensional. The rotating bioreactor allows researchers to grow more
accurate, three-dimensional cells – more like living cells – they can
then use to test new medical treatments without risking any harm to
their patients.

During several Space Shuttle flights, the Bioreactor successfully
demonstrated its ability to grow three-dimensional human cells. The
promise of the Bioreactor’s capabilities was dramatically illustrated
when it was carried on board Russia’s Mir Space Station as part of the
sixth joint Shuttle/Mir flight from September 1997 to January 1998.
Astronaut Dave Wolf, a member of the team that originally developed the
Bioreactor, spent 119 days on board Mir tending to the experiment which
successfully cultured cartilage cells.

NASA/JSC’s continuing efforts to transfer benefits of space-related
research and development to the private sector are coordinated by
Johnson’s Office of Technology Transfer and Commercialization.