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3D Bioprinting in Space

January 10 @ 08:00 - 17:00

We are inviting the European scientific community to provide input for important discussion points on the topic ‘3D Bioprinting in Space’.

NOTE: the deadline will close on Friday 21 January 2022 (23:59 CET) and will not be extended. Please click ‘Submit Your Idea’ to be directed to the submission form, where half a page is solicited as input.

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3D Bioprinting is a multidisciplinary field targeting the fabrication of functional tissues and larger organs from living cells in a layer-by-layer manner. 3D Bioprinting allows the inclusion of multiple cell types in the same layer or in different regions of the construct, while maintaining a high spatial resolution. 3D Bioprinters commonly use ‘bio-inks’ based on human cells, the nutrients and materials needed to grow body tissues such as skin, bone, and cartilage. Besides providing a useful research tool for studying 3D tissues, the possibility to 3D-print living cell constructs is now paving the way towards the production of patient-specific tissues and organs.

ESA is building a 3D Bioprinting capability in Low Earth Orbit which will provide support for research and preparation activities to enable long-term human deep space exploration. To support and facilitate human exploration on deep space missions, a better fundamental understanding and characterization of the effects of space stressors (e.g., microgravity and radiation) is needed. In addition, it is crucial to assess, define, and establish the most effective and efficient ways of minimizing or mitigating these detrimental effects to optimize the crew health and ensure mission success.

3D Bioprinting can be used to make 3D cell constructs similar in structure to specific organs or tissues. In this way, the impact of spaceflight factors on processes occurring in these tissue models, which are otherwise difficult to investigate directly in animal or human subjects, can be studied in detail. Furthermore, the effect of countermeasures, such as pharmacological agents on the 3D cell constructs can be assessed. In the longer term, 3D Bioprinting offers the potential to generate personalised grafts or implants for repair of tissue injuries for crew members during long-term deep space exploration missions, where a rapid return to Earth is not possible. 3D Bioprinting can also go beyond medical applications and print non-mammalian cells (e.g., microalgae and cyanobacteria) for utilisation in life support systems, as well as to produce food and secondary metabolites.

The envisaged on-orbit Bioprinting capability will provide researchers with the opportunity to print 3D biological structures under unique space conditions. These specimens may be further cultivated and processed on-orbit or returned to the ground for further processing in laboratories on Earth.

Therefore, within the scope of the evolution of ESA’s SciSpacE research program, 3D Bioprinting provides a novel research capability that can address several research focus areas:

Produce tissue models, biological objects, and 3D cell constructs in space for biology research in space and on ground, including, but not limited to: Fundamental research in tissue engineering, biotechnology, system and synthetic biology;
Fundamental research for optimization of 3D Bioprinting materials and processes;
Applied research for regenerative and personalized medicine;
Applied research for radiation mitigation strategies on specifically produced tissues;
Applied research for pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries as well as other commercial applications.
Produce tissue models, biological objects, and 3D cell constructs for clinical scenarios in different space mission scenarios: Evaluation of the potential of 3D Bioprinting to be applied during space exploration missions: e.g., bone/skin incidents during long-term space exploration missions;
3D printing of medical orthosis.
Produce tissue models, biological objects, and 3D cell constructs for non-clinical applications: Utilisation of non-mammalian cells (e.g., microalgae and cyanobacteria) for closed-loop life support systems and bioreactors;
Utilisation of non-mammalian cells for the production of food and secondary metabolites.


ESA, DLR, and TU Dresden are organising a 2-day workshop to further explore and discuss the topic of 3D Bioprinting in Space on 15 and 16 March, 2022, in Dresden, DE.

More information can be found in the draft announcement flyer in the attachments (scroll down). A final program and more information on registration will follow in January 2022.


In the afternoon of Day 2 of the 3D Bioprinting in Space workshop, splinter discussions will be organised and moderated around the most important topics and applications of 3D Bioprinting in Space. In particular, the main aim of the splinter discussions will be to focus on knowledge gaps to be addressed in 3D Bioprinting research to facilitate the utilisation of 3D Bioprinting in Space.

To this aim, ESA is planning to release a ground-based 3D Bioprinting Announcement of Opportunity through which important precursor and preparation activities can already be carried out on ground to best prepare for the space-based research.

The following overarching topics have already been identified as relevant discussion points:

1. Investigation of the effects of microgravity

Fabrication of well-defined, three-dimensional, and multicellular tissue models for investigation of effects of microgravity on cells and tissues. Such tissue models can be manufactured using human or mammalian cells. The 3D Bioprinter to be developed for use on the ISS will be capable of printing up to three different cell types (in combination with respective biomaterials), as this will be a 3-channel printer. However, 3D bioprinted tissue models could also be fabricated on Earth and then launched as such for investigation on-board the ISS. Depending on the type of 3D bioprinter used, even more complex models could be utilised. Identical tissue models (e.g., fabricated with the ground model of the ISS 3D Bioprinter) could be cultivated under standard conditions on Earth and then be compared with the ones 3D bioprinted and cultivated at the ISS. As no significant differences are expected concerning the 3D bioprinting process itself, it would be important to investigate the ensuing maturation phase of the tissue models (using the new 3D cell culture system), during which the 3D bioprinted cells will start to organise themselves towards a tissue-like construct.

2. Investigation of the effects of space radiation

Application of 3D bioprinted tissue constructs to investigate effects of space radiation on cells and tissues. Experimental protocols can be similar to what has been described above (1).

To complement the on-board research, 3D bioprinted constructs can be irradiated using different radiation sources on ground (e.g., using ESA’s GBFs) to compare the effects with those experimented in space at the ISS.

3. Fabrication of clinically applicable tissues

In preparation of long-term and far-distant crewed space missions, the opportunities offered by 3D bioprinting to provide clinically applicable tissue substitutes for the treatment of severely injured or ill astronauts shall be further explored and developed. Of special interest are the space-related challenges such as: suitable cell sources, on-site preparation of bioinks (preferably from primary products that can be produced in space) and tissue maturation under space environmental conditions.

4. 3D bioprinting with non-mammalian cells

As 3D bioprinting is not limited to the utilization of mammalian or human cells, other cell types like microalgae or cyanobacteria may be investigated. Possible applications could be identified in the utilisation for life support systems (oxygen production and sewage treatment), but also production of food or specific secondary metabolites (e.g., vitamins and drug components). As this topic is still mostly unexplored, fundamental research is required, including but not limited to screening of suitable non-mammalian cell species which tolerate the immobilisation into the bioink’s hydrogel and the subsequent 3D bioprinting process. The 3D bioprinted cell constructs shall then be compared with conventional cell cultures in suspension. Here too, the effects of microgravity and radiation need to be studied.

The science community is invited to propose additional and complimentary topics for discussion. The splinter discussion program on Day 2 of the workshop will be tailored around the 4 topics highlighted above and, where relevant and applicable, additionally proposed topics received through this Call for Ideas.


TU Dresden
Dresden, Germany


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