The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the Boeing Co. have teamed up to fund three new International Space Station (ISS) research initiatives through the MassChallenge Boston Accelerator “Technology in Space” prize. The projects span the fields of stem cell research, nanomaterials and biochemical manufacturing and each is designed to explore and take advantage of the effects of the ISS’ microgravity (zero gravity).
The three winners, Cellino Biotech, Guardion Technologies and MakerHealth will split $500,000 in grants. Here’s what they have planned:
Cellino Biotech, which specializes in developing lasers and nanotechnology for gene editing, will test how induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) – stem cells that can be generated from adult cells and that can give rise to all the body’s cell types – proliferate in zero-G. It will use its NanoLaze gene-editing platform while on Earth before taking the cells to space and thinks the technique can generate millions of stem cells for the treatment of genetic diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and hemophilia. These are among the estimated 6,000 genetic diseases and 95 percent of them lack approved therapies, a CASIS press release states.
Guardion Technologies focuses on uses nanotechnology to make cities safer. It plans to make two-dimensional nanomaterials in space for use in their mini radiation detectors. The Guardion team thinks convection-free production (without heat transfer) in ISS’ zero gravity may improve the quality of samples for the detectors. For example, it predicts the materials will have lower electronic noise, which allows for an enhanced signal-to-noise ratio – meaning they will be able to detect the signal with greater ease.
MakerHealth is an MIT spinoff that promotes DIY health maker spaces and invites everyone to, “Build a medical device to impact your own or someone else's health.” It aims to use the ISS environment to test its AmpliRx biochemical manufacturing platform and hopes to optimize the membranes used in its devices.
“MassChallenge represents a terrific opportunity for innovative concepts and ideas to achieve commercial viability. Both CASIS and Boeing are honored to continue our partnership in awarding unique proposals that can be enhanced through ISS National Lab inquiry,” CASIS Chief Scientist Dr. Randy Giles said of last year’s awards.
This is the fourth year in a row CASIS and Boeing have worked with MassChallenge to fund research in space, sometimes called “orbital entrepreneurship.” Since 2014, 11 startups have benefited from MassChallenge Boston’s “Technology in Space” prizes backed by CASIS and Boeing. Biorasis and LaunchPad Medical won in 2015 and their experiments are now prepping to head to ISS in December 2017 aboard SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule.
The nonprofit CASIS manages research at the ISS U.S. National Laboratory, which was designated by Congress designated in 2005. Boeing is the main ISS contractor, sustains operations, and integrates hardware and software for the orbiting lab.
MassChallenge supports high-impact entrepreneurs through a startup accelerator and takes zero equity. It runs programs in Israel, Mexico, Switzerland, the U.K. and Boston that provide mentorship, networking, office space, and four months of in-kind support. After this period, the startups receive their awards. MassChallenge awards up to $2 million annually. Its alums have created more than 60,000 jobs and generated more than $700 million in revenue.