Immune Cell Activation was selected by ESA in 2019 following the open Call for commercially-driven research projects.

At the core of the idea lies the ambition to use magnetic nanoparticles for therapy and diagnosis of diseases such as cancer, and to overcome current limitations of Cancer stromal targeting (CAST) therapy.

Using the space environment, and in particular conditions of microgravity, the project team plans to study the uptake of the nanoparticles by t-cells which aims to improve delivery mechanisms on Earth.

The Immune Cell Activation project is part of the Biomedicol Initiative coordinated by Colorobbia Consulting S.r.l. in collaboration with the University of Florence and Kayser Italia who offer access to space through the commercial Bioreactor Express Service.


The objective of the project is the development of a construct based on T lymphocytes, customized for an individual patient, strengthened in its primary functions by the presence of a magnetic core inside and able to generate hyperthermia in situ.

In order to increase the knowledge related to the stability of the nanoparticles, their compatibility with the immune system and their ability in loading the lymphocytes and the knowledge of the behavior of the “armed” lymphocytes themselves, it is planned to observe the main constituents of the “construct” , the cells and the nanoparticles in conditions of microgravity.

The Patient at the Centre of Personalised Medicine

immune cell activation cancer therapy

Exposure to microgravity will help the evaluation of the final protocols of a melanoma cancer treatment in an in vivo animal test that will be conducted on the ground after the conclusion of the project. The acquired data related to the different checkpoints involved in the activation of immune cells (T and B cells) by the nanoparticles and their internalization within the immune and melanoma cells will also be released.

During the microgravity research phase, the goal is to:

  • evaluate the ability of T or B cells to load nanoparticles,
  • unravel the cellular and molecular aspects of T-B cell interactions and activation in the presence or absence of nanoparticles in the space environment, and to
  • evaluate the ability of A375 melanoma cells to internalize nanoparticles.

This is expected to solve the main problems related to:

  • the strong tendency of nanoparticles to sediment, and
  • the increase of nanoparticle loading in cells by studying long-term incubation in microgravity.
Immune cell activation
Bioreactor Express Service KUBIK


To send the project to space, the project is making use of the commercial Bioreactor Express Service which provides access to the ESA-owned KUBIK Facility aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Steps to prepare the project for flight include:

  1. Preparation of the tailored nanoparticles
  2. Bioreactors Ground Models refurbishment and readiness for ground experiments
  3. Establishment of protocols for culturing of T cells, B cells and melanoma cells inside bioreactors and nanoparticle uptake
  4. Consolidation of scientific protocols and readiness for flight
  5. Mission preparation
  6. Flight campaign
  7. Post flight analysis

During the end-to-end project, the team received support from Bioreactor Express provider Kayser Italia which has more than 20 years experience in delivering biological and life science related projects to space.

KUBIK Bioreactor Express
immune cell activation cancer therapy bioreactor express
immune cell activation cancer therapy product


The steps following the IMM project, which is essential for the future market introduction of nanoparticles suitable for this purpose, will be as follows:

  1. Execution of in vivo POC, exploiting the IMM results.
  2. Execution of Toxicity and Safety tests
  3. Application for authorization for use on humans to EMA
  4. Execution of Clinical Phase I, II III
  5. Marketing Authorization (Phase IV) by EMA.

Phases 1-5 will be conducted by Colorobbia over a period of 5 to 10 years depending on the responses of the regulatory agencies.

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