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Since the dawn of the Space Age, the world has benefited from the transfer of NASA ingenuity into the marketplace. Spinoffs are the product of NASA technology development, partnerships, research, patent licenses, waivers and facility use.

Mars Viking Lander > Insulin Delivery System

A micro-miniaturized fluid control system aboard the Viking space probe helped scientists investigate if life exists or could have thrived on the Red Planet. Johns Hopkins University used the same technology to create the Programmable Implantable Medication System (PIMS) which in turn spurred the development of external insulin pump devices. 

The MiniMed series monitors blood sugar levels and provides patients with a preprogrammed amount of insulin over long periods of time eliminating the need for daily injections. MiniMed was eventually purchased by Medtronic, Inc. and continues to advance their insulin pump capabilities with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life for diabetics.

NASA Bioreactor > Regenerative Medicine

An effort to enhance cell culturing techniques lead by NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Krug Life Sciences (today Wyle Laboratories Inc.) resulted in the development of the NASA bioreactor—a rotating cylindrical device that mimics microgravity space environments to create 3D structures representative of tissue growth in the human body.

Today, Synthecon Inc. provides medical researchers throughout the world the NASA-developed Rotary Cells Culture System (RCCS) derived from technology flown aboard STS-86 to the Mir space station. The NASA bioreactor was operated by astronaut, medical doctor and co-inventor David Wolf and validated that cells cultured in microgravity produce intricate, organized tissue structures superior to those produced on Earth. The RCCS recreates the constant free-fall conditions of space and empowers scientists and pharmaceutical companies with a valuable research tool.

More specifically, Synthecon’s extensive patent portfolio holds promise for patients diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Current techniques that harvest islets of Langerhans (pancreatic clusters housing insulin producing cells) from healthy organs have a 50% or worse survival rate for donor cells. The RCCS increases the survival probability of donor islets to be transplanted into diabetic patients. Researchers at Synthecon have found that the bioreactor significantly improves the condition of islets and therefore requires only 1/3 the amount donor cells for an effective therapeutic dose.

Human Spaceflight > Tissue Engineering

What began as a NASA Shuttle Student Involvement Program space experiment in 1985 led to the creation of Techshot, Inc.—a hardware and payload development company that leveraged its experience with the space program to commercialize innovative medical research technologies on Earth. Techshot spin-off IKOTech, LLC markets the Quadruple Magnetic Sorter (QMS)—an apparatus that intricately separates desired cellular components based on magnetic properties.

Researchers attempting to treat patients with Type 1 diabetes through cellular transplants from healthy donor organs can use the QMS to meticulously separate glucose producing clusters from unwanted material to increase the total donor cell yield. Islet transplantation has been successful in past clinical trials; however one patient may require three or more donor organs to effectively reverse diabetic conditions. Supply is an obstacle, but IKOTech believes the QMS can significantly increase the amount of usable donor cells collected per organ.