KU Med Sperm Research Completed on International Space Station

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Bob Hallinan

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       Will we one day be able to have cities on other planets or colonize the moon? A researcher from KU Medical Center is helping NASA answer those questions.

Astronauts on the International Space Station conducted an experiment this summer that was designed at the KU Medical Center by Joseph S. Tash, Ph.D, an emeritus professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology in the KU School of Medicine.

A key to extended space travel or colonization of other planets will be the need for humans to procreate in space, but little is known about how the lack of gravity could affect the biology of human reproduction. While other reproduction research has been conducted before, Micro-11 (SPERM-03) was the first to test the functioning of human sperm in space.

"One of the long-term interests of NASA is looking at multi-generational survival as we plan longer and longer-duration missions," Dr. Tash said. "As we plan to travel beyond the space station with thoughts of colonization on the moon and Mars and other heavenly bodies, the question of whether or not multi-generational survival can occur - not only in animals but in humans - is a very fundamental question that needs to be addressed."

Tash trained the astronauts how to conduct tests using a special microscope and custom-made, three-dimensional and gas-permeable slides to examine frozen samples of both human and bull sperm in the microgravity environment of the ISS.  Tash was linked with the astronauts via video during the experiment, so he could see some results in real time.

The experiment, which traveled to the ISS on SpaceX’s Falcon 9, has already shown that sperm can swim and move around normally (which scientists call motility) in microgravity. NASA’s flight integration partner, BioServe, also discovered that the sperm preferred to swim along surfaces, which had not been seen before due to limitations caused by Earth’s gravity. This finding may have future implications for infertile couples here on Earth.

The logo for the mission was developed by Simpson’s creator Matt Groenig, and shows Homer riding a bull in space.

The video includes the unedited interview with Dr. Tash and video from on board the space station of astronauts conducting the experiments.

More info: http://www.kumc.edu/news-listing-page/tash-space-2018.html