For the first time in the world, Russian scientists from 3D Bioprinting Solutions (3dbio) were able to bioprint bone tissue in space by growing fragments of bone structure in zero-gravity conditions. During experiments on the ISS, tissue samples were made from calcium phosphate ceramics, which were populated with living cells. These sample are now currently being comprehensively studied on Earth. In the future, this technology will enable the creation of bone implants for transplantation to cosmonauts on long-range interplanetary expeditions.
During manned flights to Mars or work at the lunar base, cosmonauts will spend long times in isolation and low-gravity conditions. In such circumstances, providing them with specialized medical care is problematic. Therefore it is necessary to create new means of space medicine for the formation of body tissues in zero gravity. In the future, such tissues can be transplanted to cosmonauts if they become ill, get injured or if bone structure degenerates in micro-gravity.
Russian scientists are now looking at these issues, with respect to human bones, by conducting relevant experiments on the ISS. Last August 22, 2019, 3Dbio sent a batch of cellular materials to the ISS, to be bioprinted using the Organ.Aut magnetic bioprinter, which allows 3D assembly of tissue structures in micro-gravity.
This device uses magnetic levitation technology in zero gravity, so that the object is not created in layers, as in conventional 3D printers, but volumetrically, from all sides at the same time. To visualize this process you can think of it as making a snowball. Using this method of production, Russian cosmonauts managed to form a fragment of bone tissue, in a the shape of a spheroid, from ceramic particles. The fragments then began to interact with each other, forming stable chemical bonds. At this point, the live osteogenic cells were distributed evenly on the surface of the spheroid, which subsequently formed a and engineered tissue structure.
Last October the samples we successfully brought back to Earth on a descent vehicle, preserving their integrity and properties. Currently, they are being studied in detail by scientists who have already been able to confirm that the resulting material shows high biological activity. In the future, this process may thus enable fast bone tissue production.
3D Bioprinting Solutions revealed plans to continue the experiments on growing tissues in orbit. In particular, 3dbio scientists plan to gradually grow more bone tissue in more complex shapes, thus bringing it closer to the characteristics of the original biological bones. “Subsequently, we are going to complicate the geometry of the printed products,” said Yusef Khesuani, Co-founder and Managing Partner of 3D Bioprinting Solutions. “To achieve this goal we intend to add sound waves to the control system of our printer. These will work together with magnetic waves in order to create more complex shapes. This – Khesuani added – will allow us to create tubular and branching objects, which in their shape will correspond to human bones and blood vessels.”
Printing bone tissue from ceramic particles together with biomaterials in zero gravity was carried out by 3D Bioprinting Solutions for the first time in the world. Thus, during the study of the resulting samples, significant fundamental discoveries can be made. In the future, the new technology will allow the growth of bone implants for cosmonauts and transplantation operations without the need to return to Earth.