Vascular Tissue Challenge
The Vascular Tissue Challenge is a $500,000 prize purse to be divided among the first three teams who can successfully create thick, human vascularized organ tissue in an in-vitro environment while maintaining metabolic functionality similar to their in vivo native cells throughout a 30-day survival period. NASA's Centennial Challenges Program is sponsoring this prize to help advance research on human physiology, fundamental space biology, and medicine taking place both on the Earth and the ISS National Laboratory. Specifically, innovations may enable the growth of de novo tissues and organs on orbit which may address the risks related to traumatic bodily injury, improve general crew health, and enhance crew performance on future, long-duration missions.
The Vascular Tissue Challenge will be evaluated by a Judging Committee of well-qualified, independent and impartial experts.
The first registered team(s) to meet the guidelines and complete their trials by September 30th, 2019, will win the awards.
All requirements are noted in the Official Rules and challenge operations are governed by the Team Agreement.
The full rules are available at the challenge home page.
Q: Why is NASA interested in tissue engineering?
A: NASA's long term interests include the use of vascularized tissues for the study of environmental effects (like radiation) and testing of potential mitigation strategies needed for long term deep space missions. The Challenge could potentially advance research on human physiology, fundamental space biology, and medicine taking place both on the Earth and the ISS National Laboratory. Research has demonstrated potential enabling benefits of microgravity on tissue engineering technologies. Specifically, new technology innovations may enable the growth of de novo tissues and organs in orbit which may address the risks related to traumatic bodily injury, improve general crew health, and enhance crew performance on future, long-duration spaceflight missions.
Q: Why is this topic important to the nation?
A: In 2015 the Methuselah Foundation's New Organ Alliance worked with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation to host a Roadmapping Workshop and Roundtable on Ending the Organ Shortage. During the Roadmapping Workshop, thick-tissue vascularization was identified as one of the critical enabling challenges in tissue engineering that would be required to be overcome to produce the tissues and organs for patients in need.
Q: Why is the solution to this challenge needed?
A: Tissue engineering research has currently been limited to engineering thin-walled organs such as the trachea, esophagus, bladder, or connective tissues such as cartilage and ligaments. Researchers have been limited by the diffusion of nutrients into the cells. Without a capability to produce vascular networks to deliver these nutrients into thick tissues, the cells will rapidly degrade and die off. Thick-tissue vascularization will allow researchers to create tissues with active blood channels capable of delivering the nutrients the entire tissue needs.
Q: What is the purpose of this challenge?
A: It is expected that this Challenge will result in game changing technologies that will enable broad ranging new research leading to capabilities to repair and replace tissues and organs damaged from all kinds of impairments. The capability to vascularize tissues has been noted as the "holy grail" of tissue engineering. Currently, research is limited to engineering thin-walled tissues and organs such as the trachea, esophagus, and bladder. The ability to get nutrients through a blood flow into thick metabolic tissues (such as organs, not just connective tissue like tendons and cartilage) to keep them alive and functioning for long periods of time has as of yet eluded researchers. This challenge will revolutionize our ability to create thick, metabolic tissues that can be used to advance new research on thick-walled organs such as the heart, kidneys, lungs, or liver. It will enable new tissue assays and constructs that can be used in drug testing and disease modeling. It could open up a revolution in how we handle organ damage and impairment, on the Earth. NASA's interests also include the use of those tissues for the study of environmental effects (like radiation) and testing of potential mitigation strategies needed for long term deep space missions. Around the world, millions of people need replacement organs, and many die before finding a suitable donor. In the United States, the wait list has skyrocketed while the number of available organs has stayed relatively flat. Even those fortunate enough to find an organ in time face serious medical difficulties, often for the rest of their lives. The growing field of regenerative medicine offers many potential solutions, but it is drastically underfunded compared to more established areas of medicine. The Vascular Tissue Challenge will enable incredible new research and development to advance the capabilities needed to significantly reduce the organ shortage.
Q: Why offer a prize instead of providing grants to the researchers?
A: Prizes focus attention on critical challenges to create revolutionary advances in technologies. Although grants are critical in helping researchers move forward, prizes have been shown to coalesce a community of practice, increase public engagement, and inspire new problem solvers to participate in overcoming the challenges at hand in new and effective ways. Well-executed challenges have launched entire industries in the past, such as the Orteig Prize won by Charles Lindbergh in 1927, which transformed U.S. aviation. Among other things, good prizes can attract new capital to seemingly intractable problems, motivate top minds and non-traditional players, galvanize public demand, force regulatory reform, encourage smart risk taking, and help transcend perceived constraints. For this challenge, the Methuselah Foundation (the New Organ Alliance's fiscal sponsor non-profit charity) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) entered into an agreement to help advance the State of the Art (SOA) in the tissue engineering field. It is expected that the challenge results will become part of a portfolio of technologies pushing the boundaries of this field. The Methuselah Foundation's New Organ Alliance is responsible for the development and execution of the challenge. The Challenge is incentivized by a NASA-provided prize purse not to exceed $500,000.00 (five hundred thousand U.S. dollars) paid directly by NASA to the Challenge winner(s). Prize money will be allocated into separate pools and distributed in accordance with a pre-determined method as detailed in the Challenge rules.
How to apply
1. To register, please visit the main challenge site and download and complete the Intent to Participate form. Teams wishing to participate must submit the form a minimum of three months before starting trials.
2. Please complete the form and submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Upon official recognition, Vascular Tissue Challenge Prize teams will be asked to submit their Team Agreement and Executive Summary at least two months before starting trials.
4. Team Trial Application documents must be submitted to the judging committee at least one month before trials begin, on a date agreed upon with the judging committee.