Can Space Help Us Understand Addiction?

An astronaut holding tissue chips.

A NASA spacesuit is shown with a kidney tissue chip in hand. (Image by NASA.)

Here at NIDA, we hope the answer is “Yes!” Some cool new research could help us find out.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), of which NIDA is a part, has linked up with the International Space Station (ISS) to send tissue chips into space. Tissue chips are research devices that mimic living human cells, providing scientists with a platform for studying a variety of diseases, including addiction.

The case for space

When traveling in space, astronauts experience a lot of physical and mental changes. Some are like the changes that happen when a person ages: bone loss, muscle loss, and a weakened immune system. When the astronauts return to Earth, those changes often reverse.

Scientists will investigate these space-based changes to hopefully uncover greater insights into how diseases “work” and treatments that might help stop diseases and their harmful effects. One day, work like this might help us to understand the disease of addiction, including why some people are more protected from it than others.

Beyond and back

When the tissue chips are at the ISS, they’ll stay in an incubator for 2 weeks. Then, scientists will freeze, preserve, and send the tissue chips back to Earth for study.

The tissue chip set is the first of several supported by NIH that will travel to the ISS over the next few months. We’ll report back on the findings!

Learn more: Why are drugs so hard to quit?

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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