CELLINK and Uppsala University Send 3D Printed Stem Cells to Space

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To study the influence of microgravity and hypergravity on living systems, bioprinting pioneer CELLINK, in collaboration with a team of scientists at Uppsala University, has sent 3D bioprinted boundary cap neural crest stem cells to space. The partnership is aiming to accelerate the development of a 3D neural stem cell system to provide insight on how gravity alterations influence cellular properties.

According to the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University’s Faculty of Medicine, these so-called boundary cap neural crest stem cells are a transient cell population residing at the junction between dorsal roots and spinal cord during embryonic development. In 2014, researchers at the university conducted studies that showed how growth, survival and function of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are promoted if the cells are cultured or transplanted together with boundary cap neural crest stem cells, providing novel opportunities to treat patients with type 1 diabetes.

The stem cells prior to launch

CELLINK’s BIO X bioprinter and bioinks were used to bioprint boundary cap neural crest stem cells that were successfully launched to space on June 24 on Maser14 by the Swedish National Space Agency. The cells were supplied by a team of researchers at Uppsala University, led by Professor Elena Kozlova, and printed using CELLINK Bioink and CELLINK GelMA.

CELLINK BIO X Bioprinter used by Uppsala University

“Our mission to help improve the physical conditions for astronauts with Uppsala University is a huge milestone for CELLINK. The strenuous conditions astronauts face while in space has been a widely talked about subject and this week we took the first step towards helping solve this problem. Understanding the effects of microgravity is a crucial element to this equation.  We have worked extremely hard on developing technology that will help change the world and are very much looking forward to sharing the first set of results as soon as they become available,” suggested Itedale Redwan, Chief Science Officer at CELLINK, to 3DPrint.com.

Space exploration challenges the limits of human physiology, and advancing capabilities in spaceflight require innovative solutions from frontline scientists across fields of physics, biology, and medicine. This is why CELLINK, the world’s first bioink company, continually seeks new partnerships and collaborations to provide researchers with emerging capabilities and innovations in the field. The startup has already managed to print human skin and is also working on producing liver tissues, as well as the beta cells that produce the insulin we need to survive.

This is not the first collaboration between CELLINK and Uppsala University: the company has worked with Associate Professor Joey Lau Börjesson to use 3D bioprinting to create a favourable microenvironment for transplanted insulin-producing cells. At the time, Börjesson used 3D bioprinter INKREDIBLE to bioprint human pancreatic islets with CELLINK’s bioink PAN X, with extracellular matrix proteins derived from human pancreas and used to mimic the physiological microenvironment for the pancreatic islets of Langerhans (which have a dense network of blood vessels facilitating delivery of the produced hormones which regulate the blood glucose levels). The group mixed human islets with the PAN X bioink and bioprinted grid-shaped constructs, showing that the function in human islets is improved when bioprinted with the bioink; moreover, the human islets demonstrated intact morphology after bioprinting.

CELLINK and Uppsala University send stem cells to space

There are other projects to bioprint in space on the way, like nScrypt‘s 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF) set to launch sometime this year to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a cargo mission departing from the Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The first complete print, after the initial test prints, will be a cardiac patch for damaged hearts. While the Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT), under contract with the European Space Agency, will be creating a new, large-scale 3D printer capable of fabricating parts in a zero-gravity atmosphere. The innovative hardware will be used at the International Space Station (ISS) in connection with a European consortium to be known as ‘Project Imperial’ that includes Sonaca GroupBEEVERYCREATIVE, and OHB.

So, why is everyone so eager to send stem cells and bioprinters to space? For one, microgravity has an effect on astronauts health and stem cell research could shed light on what the effects of long missions in space could cause to the human body. In 2013, mouse embryonic stem cells were transported to the ISS to investigate the impact of long-term space flight on human health. This, like many other projects, arose after previous studies found astronauts and animals returning from space have damage to their immune or reproductive systems, which might be caused by microgravity, radiation or even stress. It seems that sending stem cells to space could not only help mitigate some of these factors but also aid in the development of new drugs to combat them.

[Images: CELLINK]

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