The International Space Station (ISS) received a payload containing new 3D-printed equipment and supplies for the 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF). The payload was a consignment of bio-inks, samples of human cells, and a set of new 3D-printed ceramic fluid manifolds to replace the previously used printed polymers.
Partnering together, Austrian ceramics specialist Lithoz and BFF launcher Techshot made the new ceramic manifolds that are to be used inside bioreactors, which supply the printed tissues with the nutrients they require to grow into usable patches.
The new and improved manifolds are made to provide better biocompatibility with the tissue samples at levels higher than the previously used printed polymers. This will allow the bioreactors to get greater yields of usable biological structures and tissues. The upgrade is regarded as a huge milestone by all parties involved.
“The success of ceramic additive manufacturing depends on working together with design, materials, and printing. Design for Ceramic Additive Manufacturing principles were used along with print parameter control to achieve Techshot’s complex fluid-handling design with the confidence needed to use the components on the ISS.” Shawn Allan, Vice President of Lithoz.
Docked 248 miles above the Earth’s surface, the ISS received a payload onboard the SpaceX CRS-18 mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The cargo contained equipment needed to begin operations of the 3D BioFabrication Facility launched in July of 2019.
The bioprinter is the first of its kind, able to successfully print human tissue in the microgravity of space.
The printer is able to manufacture fine lines of human tissue emulating heart cells and other vital organs, thinner than a strand of human hair, from adult human stem cells and tissue-derived proteins which it uses as bio-ink.
The 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF) is the first-ever 3D printer capable of manufacturing human tissue in the microgravity condition of space. Utilizing adult human cells (such as pluripotent or stem cells), the BFF can create viable tissue in space through a technology that enables it to precisely place and build ultra-fine layers of bio-ink—layers that may be several times smaller than the width of a human hair – involving the smallest print tips in existence.
The end goal of the 3D BFF is to be able to manufacture whole human organs from scratch, although it is thought that this is still decades away.
Bioprinters on Earth have previously been successful in printing bones and cartilage, but the manufacturing of soft tissues has proven more difficult. The relatively high gravitational forces present on Earth cause printed muscle tissues and blood vessels to collapse under their own weight, so researchers looked to the stars in hopes of success as experiments are currently being done in the International Space Station. Elsewhere bioprinting in space is underway with work by CELLINK and Made In Space.
If the 3D BFF is ultimately successful, it could help eliminate the current shortage of donor organs present in hospitals around the world. Patients requiring tissue replacement would no longer have to wait for another’s death before they receive their vital transplants.
Due to the nature of additive manufacturing, the bioprinter would have the ability to manufacture patient-specific tissue replacements, using the patient’s own stem cells. This reduces the likelihood of tissue rejection and eliminates the need for a lifetime of immunosuppressant drugs.