Space Aging Gravity Experiment (A.G.E.)

PIs: Tobias Deuse, MD and Sonja Schrepfer, MD, PhD,TSI Laboratory 

About the Mission

To most astronauts’ dismay, many different functions of the human body are altered and impaired when they go to space. Alongside heart problems, vision loss, and many other symptoms, space health researchers have found that floating in space actually accelerates the aging process at the cellular level. However, this also provides an extraordinary opportunity to study human aging, since we can now observe and study the aging process in a matter of days instead of years!


Space Age Gravity Experiment ("Space A.G.E.")

Research Mission

UCSF space health researchers at the Transplant and Stem Cell Immunobiology (TSI) Laboratory are preparing to send “tissue chips" (small containers that provide nutrients, life support, and a controlled environment to a group of human cells) to the International Space Station to better understand the effects of microgravity on regenerative health, and more specifically, immunosenescence – the decline of our immune system as we age. They have dubbed this research mission the Space Aging Gravity Experiment, or “Space A.G.E.” for short.

The tissue chips, which are made by BioServe, will include two types of cells: T cells, which are a specific type of immune cell, and liver progenitor cells, which will interact with the T cells. The design of the tissue chips will allow the research team to explore the relationship between liver aging and regeneration (via T cell responses) and to look for possible ways to slow the aging process and enhance the liver healing process.

Benefits of Working in Microgravity

Microgravity is unique in that it allows us to study immunosenescence both forward and backward. Humans undergo debilitating symptoms that mimic immunosenescence upon entering orbit, and these changes remain until those affected re-enter normal gravity. Basically, humans age and then de-age as they go to and from space! Being able to understand these changes as they occur in space is crucial to reducing the risks astronauts face when entering space, but can also help unlock important keys to our understanding of immunosenescence more quickly, and thus speed up our ability to combat its effects in the future here on Earth.

Research Importance

Gaining a better understanding of immunosenescence is crucial to managing the effects of aging as we grow older, and is a key step toward finding possible remedies for aging. There are several ways immunosenescence affects us. For example, there is a decreased adaptive immune response to disease threats that are new to us, as well as increased risks of cancer. This can therefore lead to a multitude of negative outcomes, such as developing certain autoimmune disorders, inflammatory diseases, and an overall lowered effectiveness of vaccines in the elderly since vaccine response is heavily reliant upon our immune system’s ability to recognize, internalize, and neutralize a pathogen.

As the human lifespan continues to increase, and aged populations continue to rise globally, the importance of this research has never been more urgent. Age-associated diseases and deterioration of the immunological system provide a very real and complex problem for future generations. Yet, without a proper understanding of how these changes arise, positive interventions remain elusive. Luckily, we now have an incredible opportunity to advance this research and test new interventions with many possible positive implications, not only for those of us here on Earth but also for those who believe we were destined to explore new worlds!

Get Involved!  


All middle and high school students in the US are invited to enter the SPACE A.G.E. MISSION PATCH CONTEST