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Heart Tissue 3-D Printed in Space Station

Jessica Meir with bioprinter

NASA crew member Jessica Meir aboard the International Space Station with the 3-D biofabrication facility operated by Techshot. (NASA, Techshot Inc.)

7 Jan. 2020. A patch of human heart tissue returned to earth today after being produced with a three-dimensional printing system on the International Space Station. The printing system is made by Techshot Inc. in Greenville, Indiana, a developer of science payloads, mainly for research labs to deliver their experiments for crew members aboard the space station.

One of Techshot’s systems aboard the ISS is its biofabrication facility or BFF, a 3-D printer designed to produce human cells in microgravity, or weightless conditions. The BFF, says Techshot, produces fine layers of bioinks containing adult human cells, including stem cells. Bioprinting in microgravity makes it easier to produce soft tissue, like blood vessels, since the printed cells are not affected by earth’s gravity, which means cells and tissue can be printed without a supporting matrix or scaffold. Techshot developed the BFF with nScript, a developer of industrial 3-D printers in Orlando, Florida.

On the space station, the BFF operates in a self-contained cell culturing cassette, where the printed cells form into tissue. The new printed heart tissue patch measures 30 x 20 x 12.6 millimeters (1.2 x 0.8 x 0.5 inches), containing heart muscle, nerve, and vascular cells. The patch returned to earth earlier today aboard a SpaceX capsule, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. Techshot says more 3-D tissue printing is expected to take place in March, when the next resupply mission to the space station delivers more bioinks for the printer.

“Our BFF has the potential to transform human health care in ways not previously possible,” says Techshot CEO John Vellinger in a company statement. “We’re laying the foundation for an entire industry in space.”

Techshot says it’s developing a cell factory for the space station for producing multiple types of cells in a biomanufacturing facility that includes 3-D printing. The cell factory will be the sixth commercial research or manufacturing payload in the space station. While these biomanufacturing facilities are promising, actual production of human organs on the space station is at least a decade away, although research in this field is expected to contribute to eventual bioprinting of human organs on earth.

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