Miniature heart sent into space to understand how heart cells age


Five Belgian companies and research centres have jointly developed the AstroCardia project with the aim of gaining a better understanding of cardiac ageing. Their initiative plans to send a miniature artificial heart to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2025.

A miniature heart, the result of a Belgian consortium comprising Space Applications Services, SCK CEN from Mol, QbD Group, BIO INX and Antleron, will be created from human stem cells and exposed to the conditions of the space vacuum, where the ageing of the cardiovascular system accelerates.

To achieve their ambitious goal, the researchers will use 3D bioprinting to create a miniature heart model on a chip, surrounded by an artificial cardiovascular system. This task demands great precision, as it involves handling living stem cells that have to divide and organise themselves. A special gel called a "bio-ink" will enable the cells to survive after printing.

This AstroCardia project offers promising prospects for better understanding cardiovascular diseases and testing potential drugs. The ageing of the cardiovascular system is up to twenty times faster in space due to factors such as stress, microgravity and radiation, offering a unique research opportunity.

In 2025, crucial tests will therefore be carried out on this heart model on board the ISS for at least six weeks, with real-time monitoring. Back on Earth, the researchers will analyse the collected data in detail to gain a better understanding of cardiac ageing.

Let's hope that this ambitious Belgian project will lead to new medical breakthroughs!