3D bioprinting in the space

Producing fully functional human organs is a goal for scientists around the world. Traditional tissue engineering models usually use scaffolds, however, approaches that use different structural platforms are also being investigated. Manufacturing tissues without scaffolds require temporary supports that allow the self-assembly of cells, proliferation, differentiation, and extracellular matrix production. Some of these self-assembling platforms of living material are guided by field forces, such as magnetic force and microgravity. 1

The process of printing tiny and complex structures found within human organs, such as capillary structures, can be challenging due to the Earth's gravitational environment. An alternative to this challenge would be printing tissues similar to human organs in microgravity. For example, the International Space Station (ISS) is constantly free-falling around the planet, so anything inside it experiences effective weightlessness, known as microgravity. Therefore, in the ISS, organs could be grown without any scaffolding. 2

The initial kick-off of bioprinting in space was established when two partner companies created the 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF), which traveled to the ISS in 2019. The companies designed BFF to 3D print tissues in space. This equipment can develop thick and vascularized tissues since microgravity provides a suitable environment for printing complex organ structures. 3

Figure 1: The 3D tissue bioprinting system for the International Space Station (ISS). 3

Additionally, Parfenov et al. (2020) and their team designed a magnetic bioassembler that was later successfully certified and tested for space biotechnology research. The magnetic levitational bioassembler manufactured 3D tissue constructions of cartilage tissue spheroids in actual microgravity conditions in space. The bioassembly process and sequential tissue spheroid fusion showed good agreement with computer simulations. Moreover, they also demonstrated good viability and advanced stages of the spheroid tissue fusion process. This work represents a great advance in the science of space life and regenerative medicine. 4

Figure 2: The schematic illustration of the space experiment. 4


1. Nasa: 3D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration - Experiment Details. https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1039

2. Woollacott, E. Why your new heart could be made in space one day. BBC (2019).


3. Michael, M.H. Bioprinter preps for ISS to 3D print beating heart tissue. Engineering.com (2018). https://www.engineering.com/story/bioprinter-preps-for-iss-to-3d-print-beating-heart-tissue.

4. Parfenov, V. A. et al. Magnetic levitational bioassembly of 3D tissue construct in space. Sci Adv 6, eaba4174 (2020).

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