With the help of some friends, NASA contractor Techshot just 3d printed stem cells in a zero gravity environment.
For more than two decades now, Techshot has been developing technologies for NASA, SpaceX and other partners pushing the limits of space exploration. For this recent project to test bio 3d printing in a space like environment, they enlisted the help of nScrypt - a company which created the first bio 3d printer back in 2003 - Bioficial Organs - a team specializing in organ 3d printing innovations - and Zero Gravity Corporation - a company that created Zero G environments aboard it's aircraft.
The goal of the team is to advance practices that will allow for human organs to be produced in space and on earth, using 3d printing techniques.
On June 14, the team boarded a Zero Gravity Corporation aircraft which produced a sustained microgravity environment at 30,000 feet above the Gulf of Mexico. This allowed the researchers to test the 3D printer in a space like environment and create heart structures using stem cells and their 3d printer.
“The hardware worked flawlessly. We’re eager to take the technology to the next level, said Techshot Executive Vice President and COO John Vellinger, ”
The test data will be used to develop a more compact and effective 3d printer for living cells which the team hopes to have ready by January 2017. If all goes according to plan, the International Space Station may get its own 3d printer capable of producing complex human tissues by 2018.
Researchers said that the long term success of the project will depend on the 3d printer’s capacity to produce fine layers of bio-ink (cells). The layers printed by the nScrypt 3D bioprinter are several times finer that of a human hair, according to nScrypt Chairman and CEO Kenneth Church, PhD.
“It’s like drawing with a fine-point pen rather than a crayon. Some of the tips on our 3d electronics printers are nearly as small as a single human cell.”
According to Bioficial Organs CEO Stuart Williams, there are significant advantages to making organs in space, as opposed to on earth.
“On earth, 3D bioprinting requires the use of thick bio-inks that can contain chemicals and other materials necessary to provide structural support. But printing tissues in space allows us to use finer print tips and lower viscosity bio-inks that contain only the biological materials needed to create a healthy organ. A space-based bio-printer has the potential to be a major game changer for human healthcare.”