The experiment coordinated by the University of Florence, "Suture in Space," which aims to study wound healing in Space, will begin on 7 June from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Models of human tissues will be placed in a specially developed container and transferred by SpX-25 (Cargo Dragon 2) to the International Space Station (ISS), where they will be monitored as part of the Minerva mission in which Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency is participating. At the end of the experiment, which was officially presented in Rome at the Italian Space Agency, the samples will return to Earth for further analysis by researchers.
"Sutures in Space" is the result of a seven-year research project directed by Monica Monici (of the ASAcampus Joint Laboratory, Department of Experimental and Clinical Biomedical Sciences, University of Florence), selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) in the ESA-ILSRA2014 call and supported by the Italian Space Agency (ASI, C-ASI N.2018-14 U.0- Sutures in Space).
"The possibility of ensuring, in the space environment, adequate medical care close to terrestrial standards is a challenge that requires extensive study ," Monica Monici explains. “The experiment took into account a multitude of factors and variables: the extreme conditions, such as microgravity and radiation, the duration of the missions, the number of high-risk activities associated with them, and the human body's response to long periods in space."
"In future interplanetary space missions, any trauma, injuries, burns, and surgical emergencies will have to be managed aboard spacecraft or space bases, because the medical evacuation times to Earth would be too long,” Monici continues.
Wounds and sutures will be produced on skin samples at the Kennedy Space Center laboratories. On the ISS, the models will be placed in an incubator at a temperature of 32 degrees Celsius. Half of the samples will be removed from the incubator and frozen at -80 °C after 4 days. The other half will be frozen after 9 days. This will make it possible to study different stages of the wound healing process under microgravity conditions. The models will return to base at the end of July. Once on Earth, the experiment will be carried out under conditions identical to those in flight except for microgravity. By comparing the samples, the effects of microgravity on the wound healing process will be understood. Post-flight activities will take about a year.
"Sutures in Space" has scientific implications that also invest other aspects of the research activity.
During the preparation of the experiment, a technique for culturing biological tissues was developed that allows them to survive for several weeks and could have various applications in the biomedical field. "For example," Monici adds, "some preliminary drug toxicity tests could take advantage of these tissue cultures instead of animal models.
In addition, studying the wound healing process in Space could help clarify as-yet unresolved scientific problems. "Despite numerous extensive studies, we do not know how and why adult mammals have lost the ability to regenerate native tissues without scarring. Studying wound models in weightless conditions, and thus with extremely low mechanical stimuli, could provide new insights into the topic for the scientific community,” Monici says.
The Departments of Experimental and Clinical Biomedical Sciences "Mario Serio" and Experimental and Clinical Medicine of the University of Florence are participating in the experiment. The University Hospital of Careggi, the Universities of Milan, Molise, Siena, Aarhus (Denmark), Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Lucerne (Switzerland) collaborated to the project.
The hardware that enables the experiment to take place on the ISS was developed by Kayser Italia (Livorno, Italy) and OHB (Bremen, Germany).