On 29th March 2022, the Science Verification Test (SVT) of the PROMETEO project was successfully concluded at Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) in Pontedera. The outcome of this test paves the way to the execution of the experiment on board the International Space Station planned in August 2022. Oxidative stress underlies many deleterious effect of spaceflight, and it is involved into the genesis of several pathological conditions on Earth (i.e. Chron’s and Parkinson’s Disease-PD). The central nervous system is the most vulnerable target of oxidative stress, requiring special antioxidant protection with the increasing duration of spaceflights and in view of interplanetary travels. PROMETEO experiment hypothesizes that polydopamine-based nanoparticles (NPs) can provide: 1) antioxidant protection and 2) neurochemical support to neurons undergoing exposure to altered gravity and cosmic radiations. The focus is on neuronal cells involved into the cognitive and motor functions both in space, where any behavioural impairments pose significant risks to manned crews, but also on Earth, where dopaminergic neuron loss underlying PD still requires effective contrast.

PROMETEO aims at elaborating effective, safe and controllable therapeutic tools for preservation/ maintenance/ promotion of architectural and functional integrity of the nervous tissue.

The experiment foresees the upload to the ISS of 12 Bioreactors, i.e. 12 Experiment Units (EU) contained by their respective Experiment Containers (EC or KIC), developed by Kayser Italia, inside which two groups of cultures will be hosted: 6 EUs will host cells treated with NPs and 6 EUs will host untreated cells.

The Bioreactors, once on ISS, will be placed by the crew inside the Kubik incubator in the Columbus module – 6 KICs in the static position and 6 KICs in the centrifuge – where they will undergo the experimental protocol lasting 96 hours. During these 4 days, the cells will be automatically refreshed with medium and finally fixed by chemicals. Indeed, the Bioreactors are on-hand labs allowing the automatic execution of a timeline preloaded on ground 48 hours prior to the integration in the Launcher for upload to ISS. At the end of the incubation period, the Bioreactors will be cold-stowed by the crew in a freezer at -95°C and then returned to Earth to the Principal Investigators (Prof. Gianni Ciofani and Dr. Giada Genchi of Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia – IIT in Pontedera) for data processing and comparison with results obtained through the Ground Reference Experiment, running the same flight protocol on the same number of EUs hosting cells from the same flight batch.

The PROMETEO final objectives are the achievement of an innovative nanotechnology countermeasure based on polydopamine against degeneration of neurons induced by oxidative stress, and the achievement of multifunctional nanotechnology tools able to compensate loss of dopamine neurotransmitter.

PROMETEO is an ASI project selected in the framework of the VUS3 ISS4EXPLORATION call.