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ISS National Lab, Boeing Award $500,000 for Microgravity Research Through MassChallenge

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
October 25, 2019
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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., October 25, 2019 (ISS National Laboratory PR) – The International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory and Boeing [NYSE: BA] have partnered for the sixth consecutive year to provide up to $500,000 in grants to innovative startups through the MassChallenge (Boston) startup accelerator program. The two startup companies awarded a 2019 MassChallenge “Technology in Space Prize, Encapsulate LLC and Axonis, Inc., will have the opportunity to leverage the microgravity environment onboard the ISS National Laboratory to enhance their products and business models on Earth.

Through the “Technology in Space Prize,” Boeing and the ISS National Lab have collectively awarded 27 projects and more than $4.5 million in funding since the prize’s inception.

Previous “Technology in Space Prize” awardees include Angiex, Inc., which tested the effects of a novel vascular-targeted cancer therapeutic on normal blood vessels onboard the orbiting laboratory; LambdaVision, which leveraged microgravity conditions to improve the manufacturing process for a retinal implant; and LaunchPad Medical, which used the space station to test an injectable bone glue to accelerate bone repair.

MassChallenge, one of the largest global startup accelerator organizations, brings together some of the world’s most innovative startups, providing support through seed funding and mentorship.

The awardees of the 2019 MassChallenge “Technology in Space Prize” are described below. Grants to these awarded companies will provide seed funding and assist with hardware costs for flight to the ISS National Lab.

Encapsulate LLC (Boston, MA)
Tumor-on-a-Chip in Microgravity

Encapsulate has developed an automated tumor-on-a-chip system that can grow patient-derived cancer cells and screen them against chemotherapeutic drugs. Such a system could provide personalized cancer therapy screening for patients on Earth. Identifying the most effective chemotherapy drug on an individualized basis prior to treatment could reduce the number of unnecessary chemotherapy treatments patients receive and improve quality of life.

To validate the performance of their tumor-on-a-chip system, Encapsulate seeks to grow microtumors in the system on the ISS National Lab. Compared with cancer cells cultured on Earth, cancer cells grown in microgravity behave in ways that more closely resemble their behavior in the human body.

Encapsulate plans to use knowledge gained from this investigation to enhance their tumor-on-a-chip system on the ground to recapitulate the behavior of cancer cells in the human body as closely as possible.

Axonis Inc. (Boston, MA)
Neurological Drug Development in Microgravity

Axonis’ mission is to work toward the development of cures for paralysis and other currently uncurable neurological disorders. For many neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, rodent in vivo models have failed to translate promising treatments to the clinic. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop robust translatable models for testing novel gene therapies to treat such diseases.

This project seeks to leverage microgravity conditions on the ISS National Lab to develop a robust three-dimensional cell culture model derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells that more closely mimics the human central nervous system and brain environment than is achievable through two-dimensional cell cultures on Earth.

Axonis seeks to use insights gained from this project to enhance their ground-based cell culture models to enable more accurate testing of potential therapies to treat neurological disorders on Earth.

Awards are contingent upon agreement of legal terms between the investigators, Boeing, and the ISS National Lab.

To learn more about research sponsored by the ISS National Lab, visit

About the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory: In 2005, Congress designated the U.S. portion of the ISS as the nation’s newest national laboratory to optimize its use for improving quality of life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users, and advancing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. This unique laboratory environment is available for use by non-NASA U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The ISS National Lab manages access to the permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space.

4 responses to “ISS National Lab, Boeing Award $500,000 for Microgravity Research Through MassChallenge”

  1. windbourne says:

    Microgravity R&D is interesting and needed, but we already have learned a great deal. What is REALLY desperately needed is research on life under varying Gs, esp. 1/6 and 1/3 G.
    CAM should have been finished and added to the ISS. W/GOP really fouled things up when they canceled that.
    Other than engineering and vetting equipment in space, CAM was the single most important R&D that could have been done on the ISS.

    • windbourne says:

      Actually, another R&D that SHOULD be going on, is rigging up a small telescope designed to comb out into the solar system and look for asteroids, comets, etc. Probably the hardest part would be building stability on it so as to isolate the scope from ISS movements. The second would be shielding sun, though I doubt it.
      However, that movement isolation, while continuing to keep the scope moving with the station would be interesting.

      • duheagle says:

        Bad idea. Just put the scope on an off-the-shelf satellite bus of appropriate size and launch the thing as a free-flier. Putting it on ISS just complicates matters and restricts its field of view in addition to complications arising from outgassing, vibration, electrical supply, etc.

    • duheagle says:

      I don’t think Dubya had anything to do with making said decision. That isn’t the sort of thing that gets run by a sitting President.

      I’d be interested in any actual evidence you might be able to adduce anent the “GOP” being responsible for CAM’s cancellation in 2005. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but you have a more than marginal propensity to assign blame for pretty much everything you find objectionable to Republicans. In this particular case, I can see a lot of reasons for supposing the decision was made by NASA lifers rather than by Congress.

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