An amazing thing happened two years ago, when Techshot and nScrypt worked together to 3D print a human heart – in zero gravity. Not a working heart, yet, but the two companies were the first to 3D print cardiac and vascular structures in zero gravity using adult human stem cells. Why would they do such a thing, you might ask? The reasoning is much more than “because they can,” as 3D bioprinting in zero gravity is actually easier and more effective than it is on Earth.
Earth-based bioprinting requires thick, viscous bioinks that can contain chemicals or other materials necessary for providing structural support. The lack of gravity in space, however, means that thinner, purer bioinks can be used, as well as thinner print nozzles, allowing for more precision and control. When the first viable human organ is 3D printed, it may very well happen in space.
After nScrypt and Techshot pulled off their successful zero-G bioprinting feat, they began work on the 3D BioFabrication Facility, or BFF, a 3D bioprinting system for the International Space Station. The BFF can 3D print thick tissue and organs using adult stem cells. The printing will happen on an nScrypt 3D Bio Assembly Tool, or BAT; the bioink will be printed into a specialized cell culturing bioreactor cassette designed by TechShot and conditioned in the TechShot ADvanced Space Experiment Processor (ADSEP). The BFF and ADSEP are scheduled to launch on their way to the ISS in February 2019.
The nScrypt BAT 3D printer features high-precision motion and extreme dispensing control, and will use nScrypt’s patented SmartPump, which has 100 picoliter volumetric control and uses super-fine nozzles, down to 10 microns, to dispense biomaterials. This enables the highly controlled and repeatable placement of bioink, which is necessary for printing the fine details of tissues and organs.
“Especially when dealing with something as important as tissue, it is vital to place the correct amount of material in the correct position every time,” said nScrypt CEO Ken Church. “This is what our machines offer and what has contributed to our success in bioprinting as well as other applications. This is an exciting time for discovery and more importantly a time of impact for those that are seriously seeking solutions to grow thick vascularized tissue, which is the basis for a fully printed organ.”
The first complete print, after the initial test prints, will be a cardiac patch for damaged hearts. Cells will be printed into the bioreactor cassette, and the bioreactor will then provide media perfusion to deliver nutrients and remove toxins from the tissue, keeping it alive while providing electrical and mechanical stimulus to encourage the cells to become beating heart tissue.The BFF may truly be an astronaut’s BFF; in addition to 3D printing tissue for people on Earth, it can print pharmaceuticals and even food on demand for people on the International Space Station.
“We are very excited to see this project, and all that it can provide, come to life,” said Techshot President and CEO John C. Vellinger. “With the goal of producing everything from organs, to pharmaceuticals, to perhaps even food, the BFF has the ability to improve the lives of people on earth and help enable deep space exploration.”
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