While journeys through space require a lot of resources, there’s only so much space missions can carry. This makes it especially difficult to carry tools and medical supplies, considering weight and spacial limits. While 3D printing has been helping with the former for quite some time, a new experiment could finally solve the issue of medical treatment in space. An ESA Mars mission may print skin and bone tissue in space in the near future, serving as a crucial development in both the medical and bioprinting fields.
Astronauts suffering injuries in space has long been a problem with no easy solutions. Medical supplies in space are severely scarce and out of reach, so perhaps bioprinting can step in and pick up the slack. At least this is what the University Hospital of Dresden Technical University is hoping for. The university’s hardware and zero-gravity materials are now ready for testing by the ESA. With their Mars crew 3D printing parts in space using stem cells and plasma with plant-matter mixture, they’ll see the results firsthand.
“In the case of burns, for instance, brand new skin could be bioprinted instead of being grafted from elsewhere on the astronaut’s body, doing secondary damage that may not heal easily in the orbital environment,” said Tommaso Ghidini, head of the division at the European Space Agency that oversees the project, in a statement.
Space Bioprinting Experiments
The team’s work with space bioprinting has been exceptional in that it takes into account the zero-gravity conditions. They initially developed a bioprinter that can work while upside-down and print skin/bone tissue. They were able to thicken the human blood plasma with plant material so it could work in the altered gravity environment. Similarly, to 3D print bones, they added calcium phosphate bone cement to printed human stem cells. This material mixture works as a structure-supporting material, and merges into the body as the bones grows.
ESA’s Mars crew 3D printing tests are not the only outer space experiments taking place. NASA has long been conducting additive manufacturing tests on rockets, particularly those that utilise bioprinting methods. Space missions have been looking at 3D printing for all sorts of things, from food to developing cardiac tissues.
Currently, the project is looking into what onboard facilities astronauts would require for these operations. Bioprinting of this type may need surgical rooms and equipment, not to mention methods of supply storage. The project holds a lot of potential for, not just space exploration endeavours, but also for medical bioprinting back on Earth. Hopefully, we’ll get to see these advances as soon as possible.
Featured image and video courtesy of ESA.