CDI workers with cells on computer screen

Heart cells made by Cellular Dynamics International, 525 Science Drive, are part of a science experiment underway on the International Space Station. CEO Kaz Hirao is at left.

Stem cells made in Madison are flying high on the International Space Station.

Cellular Dynamics International says its iCell cardiomyocytes are part of scientific tests being conducted in NASA’s new Bioculture System. They were launched into space aboard SpaceX’s commercial resupply mission on Dec. 15.

“We are thrilled that CDI and its iPSC technology are part of the groundbreaking research on cell function in microgravity,” said Bruce Novich, division president-life sciences for CDI and division president for CDI’s parent company, Fujifilm Holdings America Corp.

CDI’s cardiomyocytes are being used to test out the new Bioculture System’s engineering and life support functions, as well as to see how weightlessness affects human heart cells. NASA expects the system to be used for a variety of experiments eventually, from academic research to drug development.

Cellular Dynamics manufactures iPSCs, or human induced pluripotent stem cells, which are skin or blood cells that scientists reprogram back into their embryonic state and then coax into specific cell types. CDI has developed more than a dozen types of cells, including heart cells, that are used in research nationwide — and now in space, as well.

CDI was founded in 2004 by UW-Madison stem cell pioneer James Thomson and was purchased by Fujifilm in 2015. The company has 168 employees, including about 125 in Madison.

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Judy Newman is a business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.