Despite some rocky beginnings, Russia’s Organ.Aut 3D bioprinter successfully reached outer space earlier this week and is already being put to good use. According to Russian scientists, the zero-gravity bioprinter has already printed a mouse’s thyroid aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
Readers might have already heard of the Organ.Aut bioprinter, as the Russian space agency attempted to launch the bioprinter into space this past October. Unfortunately, the machine was aboard a Soyuz spacecraft which crashed because of a liftoff malfunction. A sad beginning, but not the end for the bioprinting in space mission.
Almost immediately after the crash, 3D Bioprinting Solutions—the Skolkovo-based company behind the bioprinter—set to work with Russia’s space agency to get another machine sent up to the ISS. The second attempt proved more successful as the Organ.Aut reportedly reached the ISS aboard a Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft on December 3rd.
Since then, the astronauts aboard the ISS have been busy getting the system going, and have reportedly already 3D bioprinted a mouse’s thyroid in the station’s zero-gravity environment. Though 3D printing itself is already being undertaken in space (thanks to Made In Space), the bioprinted thyroid is a definite first for printing living tissues and microorganisms beyond the stratosphere.
The bioprinted organ will reportedly be returned to Earth from space later this month, where it will undergo analysis. Down the line (we’ve seen February 2019 floated as a date), the bioprinted thyroid will be made public.
Why bioprint in space at all? According to Invitro, the parent company of 3D Bioprinting Solutions, the zero-gravity environment in space enables printed organs and tissues to mature at faster rates, making it a favourable environment compared to Earth for bioprinting. Perhaps in the future, the very first bioprinted human organs will be printed in space. But we won’t hold our breath for that quite yet.
The system developed by 3D Bioprinting Solutions is based on a magnetic 3D printing technology and follows on the company’s FABION bioprinter (which was used to produce mouse thyroids on Earth in 2015).
NASA, for its part, is also working on a zero-g bioprinting technology in collaboration with Allevi and Made In Space. The idea behind this project is to deploy the innovative Allevi ZeroG extruder to the ISS where it can be installed with Made In Space’s existing AMF system. This project, announced in July 2018, has not yet been launched into space.