Biomedical researchers from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso and the University of Texas at El Paso are working on a joint project to send miniature 3D bioprinted hearts to space. The research project, which has received backing from the National Science Foundation (NSF), seeks to understand how a microgravity environment affects the function of the human heart.
Bioprinting in space is a growing venture. The microgravity environment found aboard the International Space Station (ISS) provides a unique setting for bioprinted tissues and cellular structures to culture and grow. Bioprinting specialists like CELLINK and 3D Bioprinting Solutions are showcasing the potential of bioprinting in space, both for the advancement of bioprinting technologies and to understand the impact of zero-gravity on the human body.
The three-year research project conducted by the Texas-based research team falls into the latter category. The team, led by Munmun Chattopadhyay, Ph.D., TTUHSC El Paso faculty scientist, and Binata Joddar, Ph.D., UTEP biomedical engineer, wants to understand how the human heart is impacted by microgravity by testing bioprinted cardiac organoids aboard the ISS.
The cardiac organoids consist of heart-tissue structures measuring less than 1 mm in thickness which are bioprinted using human stem cells. The organoids will be sent to the ISS, where they will exposed to microgravity environments. This will provide vital insights into a condition commonly experienced by astronauts.
The condition in question is cardiac atrophy and it is caused by a weakening of heart tissue. The condition can lead to other problems, like fainting, irregular heartbeats and even heart failure. Because astronauts often suffer from cardiac atrophy after spending long stints in space, the researchers want to better understand the link.
“Cardiac atrophy and a related condition, cardiac fibrosis, is a very big problem in our community,” said Dr. Chattopadhyay. “People suffering from diseases such as diabetes, muscular dystrophy and cancer, and conditions such as sepsis and congestive heart failure, often experience cardiac dysfunction and tissue damage.”
The project, which officially started in September, is currently focused on research design. In this stage of the research, the team is developing bioprinted cardiac organoids and exploring different material compositions using cardiac cells to create heart-like tissue. The second stage of the research will be focused on preparing to launch to organoid to space. The final stage will consist of analyzing data collected during the organoids’ time in space, once they have returned to Earth.
Dr. Chattopadhyay expressed excitement about the ongoing research project, saying: “Knowledge gathered from this study could be used to develop technologies and therapeutic strategies to better combat tissue atrophy experienced by astronauts, as well as open the door for improved treatments for people who suffer from serious heart issues due to illness.”
The researchers also hope to engage the community with their research by offering a workshop for K-12 students about their experiments aboard the ISS. The team will also host a seminar for medical students, interns and residents about conducting research in space and on Earth.