Techshot and nScrypt are set to embark on an ambitious bio-fabrication project in outer space. The companies are sending out a 3D BioFabrication Facility that could potentially fabricate human heart tissue. The conditions in space provide the ideal environment for the construction of certain material, so scientists estimate that they can leverage these same properties to their advantage. The research has crucial ramifications for how we conduct modern bioprinting.
The Biofabrication facility will finds its way onto the International Space Station in February of 2019. Impressive as it is, it’s a costly printing mission that is still an experiment. So, why go through the trouble of going all the way to space? Under the constraints of gravity, heart tissue printing requires scaffolding to hold up the structure. While this makes printing easier, it eventually becomes a problem during growth. Scaffolds prevent crucial cell and blood flow and also deter natural growth.
The lack of gravity aboard the ISS will allow for an environment where the without needing a scaffold. On Earth, the viscous bioink might form a puddle but in space it could certainly maintain form. As can be seen in the video below, the companies also conducted preliminary tests on Earth using parabolic flights to simulate zero gravity. As one can imagine, the tests proved fruitful.
The printer was capable of reproducing a 3D structure, but there was a hiccup. Upon returning to gravity the printed heart tissue shrunk to half its height. Still, the team theorised that outer space will provide the conditions for it to grow functionally unhindered. Once at the ISS, the printer will perform test runs, then build the cardiac patch for heart repair.
The Troubles of Printing Cardiac Muscles
“While petri dishes are excellent in the lab, many of those struggle beyond a certain thickness. How do we get to that thickness? That’s the question,” nScrypt CEO Ken Church said. “A lot of groups have made proclamations about growing [organs], but I think we should all be clear and honest about that. What we’re doing at this point is growing grafts, such as a skin graft or a bladder graft. If you want to grow a complete organ, you have a whole 3D structure that you must deal with. Today we use scaffolds, and that is a great and promising way, but scaffolds sometimes get in the way.”
He’s correct in this regard. While many have attempted to create heart tissue, it’s never gone beyond cells and grafts. Companies like BioLIFE4D are also attempting such tests. This project differs in that it can produce tons of complex tissues that can grow into a beating human heart. This is by the most intrcate process, even taking into account toxin removals during production using bioreactors.
While the tests are merely tests at this stage, they form a crucial part of our understanding of bioprinting. After February we’ll probably see some fascinating new findings, so stay tuned.
Featured image courtesy of Techshot. Retrived from engineering.com