CASIS, NCATS, and the NIBIB Announce Space Station Funding Opportunity Focused on Human Physiology Research

Press Release From: Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS)
Posted: Monday, December 4, 2017

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), today announced a funding opportunity focused on human physiology and disease onboard the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory. Both the NCATS and the NIBIB are part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Data from this research — which will feature “Tissue Chips” (or “organs-on-chips”) — will help scientists develop and advance novel technologies to improve human health. This announcement is part of a four-year collaboration through which NCATS will provide up to $7.6 million, subject to funding availability, for research investigations onboard the ISS National Laboratory for the benefit of life on Earth.

The NCATS released the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) in partnership with NIBIB and CASIS to solicit applications through its Tissue Chip for Drug Screening program for research on microphysiological systems using the ISS National Lab. This FOA is a reissue of the FOA released last year that subsequently resulted in the award of five projects. Recent advances in bioengineering have enabled the manufacture of microphysiological systems using human cells on chips representing functional units of an organ, which replicate the physical and biochemical environment in tissues. In parallel, recent developments in stem cell technology now make it possible to cultivate tissues from humans with specific genotypes and/or disease phenotypes. Advancing this research on the ISS National Lab promises to accelerate the discovery of molecular mechanisms that underlie a range of common human disorders, as well as improve understanding of therapeutic targets and treatments in a reduced fluid shear, microgravity environment that recapitulates cellular and tissue matrices on Earth.

“This new funding opportunity in partnership with NIH provides investigators another path to accelerate biomedical research in a microgravity environment, opening a door to new discoveries in space that will improve health on Earth,” said CASIS Deputy Chief Scientist Dr. Michael Roberts. “With the inclusion of the NIBIB leading the development and application of biomedical technologies and NCATS leading the translation of discovery science to new treatments and cures for human disease, the ISS National Lab is proud to be another crucible of medical innovation.”

“This collaboration will allow us to better understand disease processes in a way we never could before, and improve human health by deploying tissue chips technology at the ISS-NL,” said Danilo A. Tagle, Ph.D., NCATS associate director for special initiatives. “Physiological changes, such as aging, tend to be more dramatic under microgravity, and can provide insights that can translate to identifying novel targets for drug discovery and development, and more effective treatments here on Earth. This effort also provides the chance to work with the space implementation engineers and payload developers to transform tissue chips into a turnkey technology.”

“This joint effort is an opportunity to further develop and refine organ-on-a-chip platforms for research in space,” said Šeila Selimović, Ph.D., director of the NIBIB program in Organs on a Chip. “The inclusion of bioengineering approaches in this program will provide unique technologies for improving our understanding of human health and disease.” 

CASIS is the nonprofit organization responsible for managing and promoting research onboard the ISS National Lab. NCATS was officially established in fiscal year 2012 to transform the translational science process so that more treatments and cures for disease can be delivered to more patients more quickly. The NIBIB is focused on improving health by leading the development and accelerating the application of biomedical technologies. Through this funding opportunity, CASIS and NASA will facilitate on-orbit access to the ISS National Lab, while NCATS and NIBIB plan to fund the selected projects to advance fundamental science and engineering knowledge. CASIS, NCATS and NIBIB hope to encourage investigators with expertise in materials science, microfabrication, microfluidics, universal media, stem cell technology, tissue engineering, disease modeling, and developing spaceflight experiments for the ISS National Lab to consider applying for funding. 

All proposals must be submitted by January 16, 2018.

To visit the funding opportunity, learn how to submit your proposal and get the latest information on this initiative, please visit:

To learn more about the on-orbit capabilities of the ISS National Lab, including past research initiatives and available facilities, visit


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