Fauna Bio Researcher Awarded NASA Early-Stage Grant to Study Hibernation in Space

Fauna Bio, a biotechnology company that leverages animal genomics to improve human health, announces Senior Research Physiologist Ryan Sprenger, Ph., has been awarded a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) grant.

Dr. Sprenger’s early-stage project, titled “A revolutionary approach to interplanetary space travel: Studying Torpor in Animals for Space-health in Humans (STASH)” aims to develop cutting-edge hardware to potentially study mammalian hibernation aboard the International Space Station. Fauna Bio is partnering in the project with BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado – Boulder.

The NIAC program nurtures highly innovative and potentially transformative aerospace concepts for future consideration and potential commercialization. Dr. Sprenger’s research aims to answer a critical question: can hibernation protect from the effects of microgravity, such as bone and muscle loss? The essential feature of hibernation is an energy-conserving state called torpor, which involves an active and often deep reduction in metabolic rate from baseline homeostasis. Potential benefits of torpor could include the preservation of muscle and bone despite prolonged immobilization and protection against radiation.

Despite this remarkable potential, the space-based infrastructure needed to study torpor in laboratory rodents does not currently exist, limiting our understanding of hibernation in space and the potential applications for humans. The NIAC grant will enable the design and implementation of STASH, a novel microgravity hibernation laboratory.

Space travel exposes astronauts to a multitude of hazards,” said Dr. Sprenger. “Both microgravity and space radiation can take a toll on the human body. Hibernation, with its profound physiological changes, could offer a revolutionary solution. The remarkable phenotype of mammalian hibernation confers unique physiologic and metabolic benefits that are being actively investigated for potential human health applications on Earth.”

We’re thrilled to partner with Fauna on this project to evaluate animal hibernation in space,” said Tobias Niederwieser, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor, BioServe Space Technologies, University of Colorado – Boulder. “This project will address critical gaps in our understanding of hibernation in space and its impact on bone and muscle loss. We look forward to developing STASH, a pioneering microgravity hibernation laboratory intended for use aboard the space station in the future.”

The short-term goals of the STASH project include novel investigations into the basic science of hibernation in the microgravity environment, laying the foundation for potential applications to benefit human health, including determining whether hibernation protects against bone and muscle loss. The medium-term goal of the project is to begin developing translational applications of hibernation research. These include using STASH both for testing bioactive molecules that mimic the transcriptional signatures of hibernation and for evaluating methods of inducing synthetic torpor and testing its ability to provide similar protection.

“This NIAC grant provides initial funding to study the potential of animal hibernation in space, to expand our knowledge of human disease development and prevention,” said Ashley Zehnder, Ph.D., CEO & Co-Founder, Fauna Bio. “We aim to unlock the secrets of hibernation in space, with the hope of revolutionizing space medicine and developing novel therapies for human health.

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