While bioprinting technologies are gradually advancing here on Earth, the next giant leap in the technology’s evolution could come from beyond the stratosphere. The ability to bioprint tissues and cellular structures in space could result in more sophisticated structures, which could culture without the pull of gravity. There are already efforts underway to bring bioprinting to space—notably, Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions recently deployed the first bioprinter, the Organ.Aut, to the ISS.
Another effort, which is one step closer to fruition, is being led by Techshot Inc., a commercial developer of spaceflight equipment, and nScrypt, a specialist in bio and electronics 3D printing. Together, the companies have developed the 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF), which is capable of printing adult human cells and adult tissue-derived proteins into tissue structures. The BFF project has also brought on bio-ink startup Bioficial Organs for consulting.
The next phase in Techshot and nScrypt’s mission to bioprint in space is underway, as the companies have announced that the BFF system is preparing to launch to the International Space Station this July aboard the SpaceX CRS-18 cargo mission from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Once installed aboard the ISS—joining a slowing growing number of additive manufacturing systems in space—the BFF will be used to create test prints made from cardiac-like tissues of increasing thicknesses. This first phase is expected to last roughly two years, after which the bioprinter will move onto printing heart patches, which will be subsequently evaluated on Earth. This leg of the project could go on until around 2024.
One of the main advantages of bioprinting in space is its microgravity environment. On Earth, bioprinting specialists face the challenge of printed structures collapsing under their weight. In space, however, complex, three dimensional structures can be printed without succumbing to gravity, enabling the structures to maintain their shapes as the cells culture and become self-supporting. At this point, the bioprinted tissues could be brought back to Earth.
Though it will take years, both Techshot and nSrypt hope to be able to bioprint organs in space, which could then be implanted into patients. Down the line—we’re talking at least a decade or so—3D bioprinted implants could help to alleviate long donor wait lists and even improve the recovery and biointegration of transplants, because they are grown from a patient’s own cells.
Though bioprinted organs might still be years away, the July launch date for the BFF system is a tangible step ahead for Techshot and nScrypt’s longer term goal.
“The concept of developing tissue or an organ in space with a 3D bioprinter has been with us for years,” said Techshot President and CEO John Vellinger. “From the technological and biological perspectives, making it real has been a painstaking process of experiments and testing. To see this coming together is an amazing thing for the team, as well as for all of medical science.”
“Assembling a human lung or other organ is still years away, but it is no longer science fiction.” added nScrypt CEO Ken Church, PhD. “BFF is the roadmap for getting there. And this BFF team knows how to follow that map. I have no doubt someday BFF will provide someone like my daughter with a second lung.”