Partnership Between ISS, McGowan Institute Aims To Build An Economy Around Research In Space

Aug 16, 2019

The University of Pittsburgh is becoming a hub for biomedical research projects being sent to space. Pitt's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine will partner with the International Space Station's national laboratory on a first-of-its-kind alliance. 

Research has been done on the ISS for years -- microgravity is a unique setting for experiements, especially when working with things like stem cells, which behave differently in space.

Research projects are typically funded by universities or the government, but McGowan Insititute director Dr. Bill Wagner said there could be an opportunity to bring in research from the private sector.

"So in other words, if you can grow stem cells in a more efficient manner or in a manner that gives them unique characteristics in space, how do you monetize it?" Wagner asked.

The alliance's success hinges on private sector involvement. The alliance plans to bring in private companies to fund their own low-gravity research projects. 

"The whole idea here with the International Space Station is to move it to a point where it's become commercialized and is being supported by the private sector," Wagner said. "It's not to say that there wouldn't be government-sponsored research in low earth orbit, but what the government is trying to do is build the for profit sector, if you will."

In February of 2018 it was revealed the Trump administration wanted to privatize the International Space Station, with plans to pull funds from the ISS.  However, at the annual International Space Station Research and Development Conference last month, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said the ISS's budget was staying intact. 

WESA receives funding from Pitt.