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TUM | Press Release | 2023-03-16

The ADDONISS (Ageing and Degenerative Diseases of Neurons on the ISS) project of the WARR student group was launched to the International Space Station ISS today. The winning team of the “Überflieger 2” competition of Deutsche Raumfahrtagentur (DLR) and Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA) conducts research of six neuronal cell cultures in microgravity.

A particular focus is on signs of cell aging, as these processes take place more rapidly in microgravity than on earth. This has been shown by previous research on the ISS. The student group wants to make use of the conditions on the space station to investigate neurodegenerative disorders – such as Alzheimer’s disease – with the experiment. To do this, the students from the WARR Space Labs team will try to measure electrical signals from neuronal cell cultures under the environmental conditions there.

Half of the cultures are treated with an agent that causes similar metabolic disorders as Alzheimer’s disease. The cell cultures grow directly on a microchip that can measure electrical signals and thus the activity of the cells. At the same time, the growth of the cells is also observed through a miniaturised camera microscope. The results will then be compared with experiments on the ground and thus help to advance Alzheimer’s research on Earth.

The experiment will be operated on the ISS for about a month in a fully automated 2U CubeLab unit from Space Tango. With the help of so-called Micro Electrode Arrays (MEAs), ADDONISS will measure the development of electrical signals from brain cells in microgravity. Biological experiments in space often have to be chemically fixed or frozen in order to be able to analyse them later on Earth. However, by continuously monitoring the cells on board the ISS with the help of the MEAs, measurements are possible directly on site without human intervention.

ADDONISS contains several subsystems for the life support of the cells and data collection. For example, a heating system to keep the cells at body temperature and various sensors to monitor the system. Furthermore, a fully automated pump system that regularly supplies the cells with fresh culture medium. Half of the cell cultures receive a medium with added beta-amyloid, a protein that plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease, among other things. The experiment is not only intended to provide information about the effects of space travel on humans, but at the same time to open up new possibilities for research into degenerative diseases on Earth.