Human tissue chips are a safe, compact way for scientists to study the human body — and now they’re heading into space.

HumanOrgansOnAChip

Human tissues on a chip are headed into space. Tissue chips contain a small network of cells that work like real human organs, and are a safe, compact way for scientists to study the human body.

SpaceX’s Dragon resupply mission launched from Florida yesterday and is currently rocketing toward the International Space Station (ISS). On board are a few dozen chips designed to mimic the immune system — like the kidney-on-a-chip shown here. The missions is led by the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

And the Tissue Chips in Space initiative will give scientists a closer look at the physiological changes that astronauts experience during space missions, such as bone loss and muscle deterioration.

Because the changes are akin to aging, the chips will also provide a unique look at what it means to grow older on a cellular level. Additional chips mimicking things like bone and cartilage and the blood-brain barrier are scheduled to launch in March and April of 2019.