Building on the scientific success of previous missions using animal models, the Rodent Research Reference (RRR) Missions adapt the standard rodent research format to maximize science return and resource utilization via tissue sharing—providing multiple investigators access to biospecimens from a single mission. Following the successful first RRR Mission, which launched to the ISS on SpaceX’s 16th commercial resupply services mission in December 2018, the ISS National Lab announced its second RRR Mission for investigators seeking access to biological specimens to support fundamental biomedical inquiries.
The persistent microgravity environment on the ISS National Lab has profound effects on living organisms that can mimic the onset and progression of disease here on Earth, providing researchers with valuable information about the mechanisms behind diseases such as cancer and possible new methods of treatment. Mice and rats, which share many of the same genes and physiological characteristics as humans, have served as exceptional translational models in space-based research since the early 1980s.
The RRR Missions provide opportunities for investigators to obtain biospecimens from animal tissues that have been exposed to the spaceflight environment for a wide variety of research purposes. Insight gained from the RRR Missions may help advance research on diseases and aging effects involving muscle, bone, and other organ systems.
Each RRR Mission is a partnership between the ISS National Lab, NASA, and Taconic Biosciences. Taconic provides, at no cost to the mission, selectively bred and genetically engineered mice and rats for research use to advance our understanding of human disease. The objective of each mission is to generate data that validate the rodent research model in space for the benefit of medical science on Earth.
The significance of the RRR Missions rests in the adoption of an innovative and customizable mission concept using a standardized approach to operations and habitat configuration that both benefits researchers and maximizes ISS National Lab resources. Through the use of a simple and reproducible mission architecture based on use of the most commonly used genetic strains of mice, it is possible for RRR Missions to be quickly integrated for spaceflight to take advantage of missions of opportunity. In this way, the new RRR Mission concept has the potential to improve resource allocation by optimizing use of available space onboard flight vehicles.
Additionally, the RRR Mission concept significantly reduces the need for extensive feasibility assessment of individual rodent research investigations, enabling the ISS National Lab to rapidly implement RRR Missions, often reducing the time from mission concept to flight.
The RRR Missions join the existing Rodent Research Program Missions led by single investigators as a supplemental yet crucial element of a pathway for new partnerships across disciplines and industries. Partnerships with funders and investors, commercial service providers, and commercial suppliers introduced through this experimental design have the potential to expand access to invaluable biomedical research specimens, data, and knowledge. Additionally, cooperative partnerships such as these enable the costs of mission planning to be reduced while expanding access to specimens and data.
The introduction of the RRR Missions, conducted alongside the existing Rodent Research Program missions, may advance scientific knowledge to benefit human health here on Earth and reflects the ISS National Lab’s commitment to delivering meaningful scientific advancement back to the U.S. taxpayer.
This content was abridged from an article that originally appeared on ISS360 in March 2019.