The objective of SPHINX (SPaceflight of Huvec: an INtegrated eXperiment) is to determine how HUVECs modify their behavior when exposed to real microgravity. This could provide better knowledge of endothelial function, which could be useful for clinical application.

 Specific goals:

  1. To evaluate endothelial protein profile by protein arrays.
  2. To evaluate endothelial gene expression by cDNA arrays.
  3. To evaluate endothelial synthesis of nitric oxide.

SPHINX Mission : Launch on 27 October  2010 with Progress 40P, return to ground with Soyuz 23S on 26 November 2010. SPHINX was an ESA mission performed on board of the International Space Station. The SPHINX experiment units were processed in the KUBIK incubator, an ESA facility.

Experiment General Description:

It has been previously demonstrated that simulated μg reversibly stimulates the growth of macrovascular ECs. In order to investigate the effects of microgravity on HUVEC genomics, proteomics and NO synthesis, cell cultures will be flown and incubated in microgravity for several days. At the end of this period, the culture medium will be separated from the cells and both will be fixed for postflight analysis. The specific benefits of the proposed space experiment range from a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms influencing endothelial behaviour to the possibility of outlining new countermeasures against the astronaut cardiovascular deconditioning and bone demineralization.

The experiment hardware, manufactured by Kayser Italia under ESA contract, is hosted in the centrifuge insert of the Kubik facility, an ESA incubator available in the Columbus module of the International Space Station.

The flight set is composed of 12 Experiment Hardware (EH) and  2 soft pouches for upload and download of EH. Each soft pouch houses 6 EH. Since the EHs have to be uploaded at controlled temperature (>25°C), two additional soft pouches (BIOKIT)  with Phase Change Materials  cartridges are  used to provide the necessary thermal control during the upload phase.

The EH is composed of an experiment unit (EU) inserted in one Experiment Container  (EC). The experiment container, named KIC, has already been flown in a biological mission (BIO4). Each EU contains 1 Culture Chamber, 5 reservoirs for medium exchange and fixative injection. Required actions on the samples are fully autonomous: cell activation and fixation occur by liquids injection by means of a spring controlled piston. The sequence of activation and fixation operations is controlled by a timeline loaded on the EU electronics before launch.

After experiment execution the 12 EH have been maintained in Kubik at +6°C before re-entry with Soyuz 23S.The same 2 soft pouches weree used to transport the 12 EH during upload and download.