Watch: Upside-down 3D-printing skin and bone for Mars missionsS. Himmelstein | July 10, 2019
Great advances have been made in bioprinting tissues, bones and organs much to the benefit of the Earth-bound. As these 3D-printing technologies may not translate to the low gravitational environments typically encountered during space travel, new medically grounded additive manufacturing methods are needed to safeguard the health of astronauts during missions of long duration, such as to Mars. A European Space Agency project has now posted progress in making 3D bioprinting practical for space.
A consortium including researchers from Blue Horizon of Luxembourg, Germany’s OHB System AG and University Hospital of Dresden Technical University developed a way to 3D print artificial skin using human blood plasma as the bio-ink. The fluid would be readily accessed from crewmembers and its use would minimize the potential for body rejection.
Methylcellullose and alginate are added to the ink to increase its viscosity and keep it from floating away under low gravity. These materials can be sourced from plants cultivated aboard the spacecraft. Artificial bone is bioprinted using human stem cells with calcium phosphate bone cement added to strengthen the bio-ink fluid.
To approximate a weightless environment, the researchers operated a 3D printer upside down, demonstrating that the bio-ink stayed in place as both skin and bone samples were fabricated.