Nichoid in space: Advanced in vitro models for “on orbit” investigations

Duration 1/02/2021 – 30/07/2022- Funded by ESA-OSIP2020 – G.A. 4000133244/20/NL/GLC

PI: Dr. Gianni Ciofani, iiT in Pontedera (Italy)

NEW Video with project results (relevant publications are linked at the bottom of this page)

Project abstract

In most in vitro cell models, cultures are made adhering to flat culture slides and the expected activation of specific cell markers is measured on cells. However, in this simplified condition, cell response is not representative of the in vivo response, which is based on cell interactions that occur in three-dimensional (3D) non-flat environments and between several cell populations. In oncology, 3D cell culture models are being exploited in particular during the process of the development of new anticancer agents, as they mimic the main features of human solid tumors more reliably than flat culture, i.e., their structural organization, cellular layered assembly, hypoxia, and nutrient gradients.

Recent evidences show that microgravity could provide appropriate cues to 3D cancer cell cultures, so that they can exhibit features resembling the physio/pathological conditions. However, up to now there is no evidence in the literature about the effect on cancer cells of combining microgravity to a 3D topographical environment surrounding the cancer models.

In this project, we want to use a miniaturized 3D scaffold to bring into proof of concept our idea that cell culture experiments can be performed in more realistic 3D environments also on orbit. We will develop a new microfabricated scaffold addressing the context of ESA technology (ET) that we will call Nichoid-ET. The new scaffold will be microfabricated by two-photon laser polymerization, only 30 µm thick, and fully inspectable in fluorescence. The Nichoid-ET will be manufactured on polymeric culture slides, already used in bioreactors onboard the International Space Station. This will require a custom design for the microarchitecture and the engineering of a relevant technology of fabrication. Using the newly-designed Nichoid-ET scaffolds, we will set-up a cell model of glioblastoma multiforme. If successful, the relevant technology developments will bring the Nichoid-ET up to prototype level with potential customer interests in using this advanced substrate in multiple applications of biological research in space.


Musi CA, Colnaghi L, Giani A, Priori EC, Marchini G, Tironi M, Conci C, Cerullo G, Osellame R, Raimondi MT, Remuzzi A, Borsello T. Effect of 3D Synthetic Microscaffold Nichoid on the Morphology of Cultured Hippocampal Neurons and Astrocytes. Cells. 2022 Jun 23;11(13):2008. doi: 10.3390/cells11132008