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Osteoporosis: our studies in Space in the hands of @AstroSamantha 17-04-2015

The University is participating in two experiments on osteoporosis in microgravity conditions – conducted in the laboratories of the earth-orbiting International Space Station – by the young Italian astronaut, member of the Italian Space Agency’s Futura mission.

Samantha CristoforettiThe University is participating in two studies on osteoporosis that have just been transferred to the laboratories of the International Space Station (ISS) 400 km above the Earth. The Principal Investigators of the two projects - "Nanoparticles and Osteoporosis" (NATO) and "Stem Cell Differentiation" (SCD) include, respectively, Angela Maria Rizzo of the Department of Pharmacological and biomolecular sciences, and Jeanette Maier, of the  "L. Sacco" Department of Biomedical Sciences for Health.

Osteoporosis is a major problem during space missions due to characteristic bone loss of 2% per month –  potentially the greatest obstacle to human exploration of space – which is however recovered within a few months from returning to earth. Bone is a dynamic tissue constantly modelled by the coordinated action of osteoblasts which deposit new bone matrix in the interior of the bone and of osteoclasts which reabsorb bone tissue. In fact, it has been demonstrated that reduced osteoblast activity and excessive osteoclast activity in conditions of micro-gravity results in osteopenia.

Both experiments – one conducted as part of Futura, the Italian Space Agency’s mission (ASI) and the other financed by the European Space Agency (ESA) – have been entrusted to the young astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti - @AstroSamantha - and therefore exploit micro-gravity conditions to study osteoporosis but with a different focus.

Departing at 1.42 a.m. on March 28 from the Russian base of Baikonur in Kazakhstan, on-board the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft – that carried the Russians Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka and American Scott Kelly into orbit– the human mesenchymal stem cells of the SCD experiment are now cultivated on-board the ISS and induced to differentiate into osteoblasts for 2 weeks.

The aim of the SCD experiment – designed by Silvia Bradamante of the CNR Milan and by Jeanette Maier, already authors of a study on human endothelial cells on-board the ISS – is to understand the effects of microgravity on bone marrow derived mesenchymal stem cells, precursor cells that, in response to specific stimuli, differentiate into osteoblasts. The ISS team

The SCD team also includes two of our young researchers - Sara Castiglioni and Alessandra Cazzaniga – who prepared the experiment in the Baikonur laboratories with the assistance of the Kayser Italia team headed by Aleandro Norfini.

The NATO experiment – conducted by the University of Pavia (Livia Visai) and University of Milan (Angela Maria Rizzo), the Institute of Crystallography - CNR (Giuseppina  Rea) and Kayser Italia  - studies the effects of administration of specific nanoparticles as a countermeasure to reduce Microgravity (MG)-induced osteoporosis using the same human stem cells that differentiate into osteoblasts.

The cells of the experiment were launched on April 14, at 22.10 p.m. Italian time (4.10 p.m. West Coast Time) on-board the SpX-CRS-6 from Cape Canaveral – where Giuseppe Pani was present – to reach the International Space Station (ISS) inside engineered culture chambers (Kayser Italia) and to verify the effect of the spatial environment and the effectiveness of nanoparticles as a countermeasure to osteoporosis.
Subsequently, the gobal genic expression profile will be explored, also conducting high-resolution X-ray microdiffraction analyses.

On returning to Earth, we will know more about what happens to mesenchymal cells in space, possibly opening up new horizons for a more complete approach to the problem of osteoporosis of astronauts, and also of the elderly, with targeted countermeasures able to reduce bone loss.

Università degli Studi di Milano

Department of Pharmacological and biomolecular sciences
Angela Maria Rizzo
Tel. 02 503 15777 – 15790

"L. Sacco" Department of Biomedical Sciences for Health
Jeanette Maier
Tel. 02 503 19648 – 19649 – 19659