[UPDATE] Bioprinting in space: knee meniscus successfully printed on ISS

Written by Georgi Makin

A collaborative team running projects based around the 3D BioFabrication Facility on board the International Space Station has reported success in the bioprinting of a human knee meniscus.

** UPDATE: Monday 4 May 2020 **

A collaboration between The Geneva Foundation (Geneva, Switzerland), the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (MD, USA), TechShot (IN, USA) and nScrypt (FL, USA) has announced success in the 3D bioprinting of a human knee.

As part of a Defense Health Program-funded 4D Bio3 (4-Defense Biotechnology, Biomanufacturing and Bioprinting) Program, astronauts have completed a pilot testing series to bioprint the meniscus, in an effort to combat one of the most common orthopedic injuries affecting military service members. 

Vincent Ho, Director of 4D Bio3 and Professor and Chair of Radiology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, explained: 

Our Fabrication in Austere Military Environments (FAME) program explores the challenges of 3D printing health-related products in various remote settings which our servicemembers are often deployed. We successfully 3D printed surgical instruments, bioactive bandages, anatomic models and human meniscus tissue last summer in our first pilot study performed in the desert heat of Africa. In this second pilot study, we anticipate learning valuable lessons on the challenges and benefits of 3D biofabrication of human meniscus in space on the ISS. We have future plans to perform similar experiments in the jungle, aquatic, arctic and high-altitude settings.”

Source: https://genevausa.org/news/story/4d-bio3-program-completes-first-3d-bioprinting-test-experiment-in-space/


** UPDATE: Wednesday 8 April 2020 **

Bioprinted samples return from International Space Station

A cargo ship docked at the International Space Station on 9 March 2020, reportedly carrying SpaceX’s 20th cargo resupply mission with dozens of scientific experiments. 

NASA reports that the ‘Dragon’ cargo ship is due to have left the International Space Station on its return to Earth by Wednesday 7 April 2020, carrying samples and data from completed investigations. 

The samples and data will include completed experiments investigating engineered heart tissues from human induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, biofilms, amyloid formation in microgravity and bioprinting complex structures in microgravity in the absence of scaffolds. 

The 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF), as described below in 3DMedNet’s initial coverage of this project, has utilized ultra-fine layers of bioink – reportedly several times thinner than a strand of human hair – as an initial step towards refining potential techniques for bioprinting human organs in space. 

NASA astronaut Christina Koch handles media bags for the BioFabrication Facility (BFF)
NASA astronaut Christina Koch handles media bags for the BioFabrication Facility (BFF)

John Vellinger, President and CEO of Techshot (IN, USA), the company leading the bioprinting research on the International Space Station, has claimed that so far, the BFF has proved ‘basic functionality’. 

Upon reaching Earth, the Techshot team will be working on upgrading the BFF to enable high throughput use when it returns to the space station.

Source: www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/news/3d-printing-biology-research-journey-back-to-earth-in-spacex-20-dragon


** Originally published Thursday 16 January 2020 **

Human heart cells bioprinted in space 

In an out-of-this-world first, a bioprinter has 3D printed a large volume of human heart cells on the International Space Station. 

Researchers on board the International Space Station have successfully 3D bioprinted a large volume of human heart cells. The tissue-like structures are due to be delivered to Earth this week.

The bioprinter, named the 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF), is owned by Techshot Inc (IN, USA) – a commercial operator of microgravity research and manufacturing equipment – and was developed in partnership with nScrypt (FL, USA).

John Vellinger, President and CEO of Techshot, explained:

Our BFF has the potential to transform human healthcare in ways not previously possible. We’re laying the foundation for an entire industry in space.”

The bioink used in the International Space Station project at microgravity reportedly contained heart muscle cells, nerve cells and vascular cells, but did not contain any scaffolding or thickening materials required for bioprinting structures on Earth.


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In the microgravity environment aboard the International Space Station, the materials 3D printed are capable of maintaining their shape, where they would normally form nothing more than a puddle on Earth.

More 3D bioprinting projects are expected to be conducted aboard the International Space Station in March, as the company hopes to work towards a solution for the organ shortage crisis.

As testing rounds continue, Techshot Inc hopes to be able to launch the BFF officially to businesses and life science institutions.  

Source: www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/success-3d-bioprinter-in-space-prints-with-human-heart-cells-300982759.html


Lead image: NASA Astronaut Jessica Meir with commercial Techshot Tissue Cassettes. NASA Astronaut Jessica Meir aboard the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory preparing privately owned Techshot Tissue Cassettes, containing samples 3D bioprinted in space, for their return to Earth inside a SpaceX capsule. 

Photo courtesy of NASA. Available via: www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/success-3d-bioprinter-in-space-prints-with-human-heart-cells-300982759.html