Written by Rachel Blosser. She is pictured above (second from right) along with several project collaborators.
My name is Rachel Blosser, and have been the lab manager for Dr. Kacena’s research team since January 2018.
I have a bachelor’s degree in biology (genetics focus) and a master’s degree in Developmental Biology, both from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
Prior to working with Dr. Kacena, I worked for more than 10 years in Dr. Susan Clare’s lab studying breast cancer, Dr. Joseph Tector’s transplant research lab, and at Eli Lilly & Co. in oncology research.
My husband is also a biologist, and works in oncology research at Eli Lilly. We have two daughters, ages 14 and 11, so we stay very busy.
My involvement in the spaceflight project began in June 2018 when I participated in an Experiment Verification Testing-2, or EVT-2, at NASA Ames Research Center, which is located near San Jose, California.
The EVT is a precise way to test the written protocol and the hardware/software designed by NASA so to ensure everything is functioning and that the experiment at the International Space Station (ISS) will be successful.
During the week at Ames, we prepared both the bioreactors and cells, just as they will be prepared the days leading up to the actual launch scheduled for July 2019. The bioreactor is a vessel where the cells will be cultured while at the space station. It is an enclosed system about the size of a dry-erase marker, with fibers inside for the cells to attach to.
The preparation of the bioreactors and cells takes about five days, and involves injecting a series of solutions through the bioreactor to prepare the system for the cells.
The cells are originally prepared in our lab at Indiana University, and then stored frozen. When preparing the cells, we first carefully thawed them, and then determine their viability. At the end of the procedure, the cells are added into the bioreactors.
The engineers then subject the bioreactors to a simulated launch. Every step we performed had to be done exactly as described in the protocol, and all of this was conducted in a sterile environment so that no contaminants are introduced. Contamination would cause the experiment to fail, so it’s extremely important to be careful.
Since EVT-2 was not an initial test, we did not have any issues with the preparation protocol. However, after handing the bioreactors off to the engineers, a few problems surfaced with the hardware/software that have since been addressed.
EVT is not only an interesting and exciting aspect of this entire project, is also very satisfying to see our studies getting closer and closer to the goal.