26 Nov 3D bioprinting in space
It has been a long journey from spaceflights lasting only a few days to the current ones of around six months, or even longer. In addition, exploratory missions to the Moon and/or Mars are more than a simple idea, with colonisation as the ultimate future goal.
For all these reasons, almost all national and international space agencies, as well as private investors and commercial enterprises, are currently developing new technologies to ensure health of the astronauts during the mid- and long- term spaceflights.
It is well known that the human body is negatively affected by space environment and the availability of functional 3D bioprinters could play a crucial role to firstly promote a significant research advancement and a direct medical support then. Bioprinting belongs to the additive manufacturing (AM) technologies, allowing to deposit cells and biomaterials, such as hydrogels, to realize a layered bioengineered three-dimensional tissue with predesigned shape and size. This technology offers a wide range of potential future applications starting from simple tissue models to complex vascularised constructs.
In this regard, the European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut, Matthias Maurer, performed the “Bioprint FirstAid” experiment by German Aerospace Center, DLR, on the International Space Station (ISS) during his “Cosmic Kiss” mission. The project aimed to fabricate a custom-made patch by cross-linking patient cells and biomaterials, as astronauts after medium and long-term missions complain of skin disorders such as itching, rashes and premature ageing, showing visible cracks. Furthermore, the healing and treatment of trauma wounds or severe burns are complicated to treat in space. Obviously, bioprinting is not suitable only for epithelial tissue, but also for different biological tissues, including skeletal system, as astronauts in zero or low gravity experience bone loss and fractures may be then more likely in orbit or on Mars.
Skin or bone can be bioprinted using a nutrient-rich ‘bio-ink’ of human blood plasma available from the astronauts themselves. The final goal is to obtain a functional technology not only in space, but also for Earth applications in order to develop personalised therapeutic protocols.
ESA website: Bioprint First Aid
Cubo-Mateo, N., & Gelinsky, M. (2021). Wound and skin healing in space: the 3D bioprinting perspective. Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, 9.
Ghidini, T. (2018). Regenerative medicine and 3D bioprinting for human space exploration and planet colonisation. Journal of thoracic disease, 10(Suppl 20), S2363.
Cubo-Mateo, N., Podhajsky, S., Knickmann, D., Slenzka, K., Ghidini, T., & Gelinsky, M. (2020). Can 3D bioprinting be a key for exploratory missions and human settlements on the Moon and Mars?. Biofabrication, 12(4), 043001.