Over 400 kilometers from Earth, advances are being achieved in the field of bioprinting. In November, the 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF) was delivered to the International Space Station, where it is being used to test how bioinks and printed human cells react in a microgravity environment. As it turns out, the bioprinter’s output isn’t the only thing being evaluated: the performance of 3D printed ceramic components for bioprinting applications is also being tested.
Aerospace engineering consultancy Techshot, which launched nScrypt’s BFF into space last July, enlisted the help of ceramics 3D printing company Lithoz America to produce a series of 3D printed ceramic fluid manifolds. These components, which were launched into space along with the BFF system, are being tested as part of Techshot’s tissue conditioning system.
According to recent results, the printed ceramic parts are having a positive effect on the bioprinted samples, with December’s yield of biological constructs being significantly larger than July’s.
Lithoz America and Techshot collaborated to develop the ceramic fluid manifolds, which are designed for use inside bioreactors, to determine whether they would be superior to polymer manifolds, which were tested aboard the ISS over the summer. The bioreactors are a critical step in the bioprinting process, as they provide nutrients to the living materials printed in space.
The manifolds, which were printed using an LCM-based CeraFab 3D printer, are now being evaluated based on their biocompatibility, precision, durability and fluid flow dynamics. So far, the results are promising. For instance, the ceramic materials are more biocompatible than the printable polymers.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure working with Lithoz,” said Dr. Carlos Chang, Techshot Senior Scientist. “Their expertise in ceramic procssing really made these parts happen.”
Shawn Allan, Lithoz Vice President, added: “The success of ceramic additive manufacturing depends on working together with design, materials and printing. Design for Ceramic Additive Manufacturing principles were used along with print parameter control to achieve Techshot’s complex fluid-handling design with the confidence needed to use the components on ISS.”
As the in-space research continues, the partners will turn their focus to optimizing the integration of the ceramic fluid manifolds and achieving longer culturing periods for the bio-materials. The conditioned human tissues printed in space are expected to return to Earth early this year. Further evaluation can them be conducted.