that measure the molecular mechanisms underlying cellular functions will be essential to provide data for comparing proposed experimental controls and quantifying the observed changes in cell and tissue samples.
At NASA, the work viewed by the task group was being carried out in the biotechnology section of the Microgravity Research Division. The themes of the cell science work under way in this program overlap with the scope of the work ongoing in the NASA Life Sciences Division, such as research on bone formation and muscle function. The complementary nature of these two programs needs to be recognized so that NASA personnel and external researchers can take full advantage of the resulting synergies. The Life Sciences Division covers a broad array of topics, including cellular and molecular biology, gravitational ecology, and organismal and comparative biology, that potentially relate to the cell science work under way in the Microgravity Research Division. Clearly, NASA and NASA-sponsored researchers would benefit from sharing and coordinating experiments on similar cell biology projects, such as the work on muscle growth and on osteoblasts. There is also a potential for synergy in connection with the Life Sciences Division's work on larger systems. Through this research, the observations of whole organisms provide a basis for theories about what happens to cells and tissues in microgravity, while the Microgravity Research Division's cell science program greatly expands the range of hypotheses that can be tested. Cooperation between the two programs provides a way to relate observations on cellular constructs to whole-animal response, for example, whether gene expression patterns in microgravity tissue constructs are similar to gene expression patterns in the corresponding animal organ in response to microgravity. If NASA-sponsored research is to provide a cellular basis for understanding the physiological effects of prolonged weightlessness on astronauts, a more complete continuum between the cellular experiments and whole organism responses needs to be established, and nonoverlapping but related contributions from both the Life Sciences and Microgravity Research Divisions are necessary.
Coordination (not just communication) between the divisions on cell science work is needed for fully understanding the relationships between in vivo and in vitro systems, and a better sharing of resources and expertise seems essential. While there is already overlap in flight hardware availability (both life science and microgravity researchers have and will continue to have access to the same equipment), it is not possible to have projects that are jointly funded by the Life Sciences Division and the cell science section of the Microgravity Research Division. The task group believes that although the potential synergies are significant, they are not yet being realized. A mechanism to establish cosponsored projects should be considered, possibly via joint NASA research announcements. It is important to note that each program does have unique approaches, goals, and perspectives, and to maintain these valuable differences, the administrative integrity of the separate programs should be retained.
Recommendation: The research strategies and projects of the cell science work in the biotechnology section of the Microgravity Research Division should be more closely coordinated with the work of NASA's Life Sciences Division to take advantage of overlapping work on bone and muscle constructs and of potential synergies between in vitro and in vivo research projects.