A joint team consisting of Florida-based nScrypt, space company TechShot, Inc, the Geneva Foundation and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) has successfully conducted its first 3D bioprinting test aboard the International Space Station (ISS). In the experiment, ISS astronauts used nScypt’s 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF) to 3D print a human knee meniscus as part of the 4D Bio3 Program.
As we’ve seen, bioprinting in space is creating some interesting opportunities. This is because bioprinted structures and cells can thrive in microgravity environments, with cells maturing in a three-dimensional scaffold without the influence of gravity. The first successful test conducted by the 4D Bio3 team, in which a knee meniscus was bioprinted, will eventually be one of many, as the partners will continue to develop tissues in space and eventually even organs. nScrypt and TechShot launched the 3D BFF into space last July, not long after the launch of the Organ.Aut bioprinter to the ISS by Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions.
“Our Fabrication in Austere Military Environments (FAME) program explores the challenges of 3D printing health-related products in various remote settings which our service members are often deployed,” explained Dr. Vincent B. Ho, Director of 4D Bio3 and Professor and Chair of Radiology at USU. “We successfully 3D printed surgical instruments, bioactive bandages, anatomic models and human meniscus tissue last summer in our first pilot study performed in the desert heat of Africa. In this second pilot study, we anticipate learning valuable lessons on the challenges and benefits of 3D biofabrication of human meniscus in space on the ISS. We have future plans to perform similar experiments in the jungle, aquatic, arctic and high-altitude settings,”
The goal of the bioprinting in space project is to advance the deployment of bioprinting capabilities (as well as 3D printing) in remote or rough environments. Notably, nScrypt has developed ruggedized bioprinting and printing systems which are meant for military use in the field, where medical resources may be limited.
“The manufacture of soft human tissue, such as hearts and other organs, has proven difficult due to the conflicting needs for bioinks to be printable, biologically relevant, and possess the desired tissue mechanical properties,” said Dr. Joel Gaston, USU Assistant Professor and Geneva Foundation Senior Research Scientist, who led the experiment. “On Earth, when attempting to print with soft, easily flowing biomaterials that better mimic the body’s natural environment, tissues can collapse under their own weight – resulting in inaccurate architecture and cellular connections. But if these same materials are used in in a sustained microgravity environment such as the ISS, 3D printed soft tissues could maintain their shape.”
The meniscus was chosen as a test tissue because meniscal injuries are reportedly some of the most common orthopedic injuries affecting military service members. A torn meniscus, which can be caused by many things, results in poor shock absorption in the knees, which can in turn lead to arthritis and knee pain. The 4D Bio3 program under which the bioprinted meniscus tissue was created using the BFF is a five-year program funded by the Defense Health Program.