With both medical and technological advancements, a lot of scientists and researchers have been working on 3D printing bodily materials like organs, and some of these organs even have the intricate details of blood vessels and tissues over the past few years. Now, this technology is being tested aboard the International Space Station or the ISS.
Deputy Chief Scientist at the ISS US National Laboratory, Dr. Mike Roberts has given light on the importance of testing this kind of, what they described as, cutting-edge technology in space. He says that the ISS is critical to the future of biomanufacturing. He mentions that while it is noteworthy that scientists have been growing cells in the lab for over a century now, gravity on earth limits the growth to only two dimensions, not like in they do in the human body. In our system, cells grow not only outward, but also in a vertical orientation. Aside from this, lab grown cells are often constrained by the container in which they are grown.
Dr. Roberts then explained that if this is done aboard the ISS, the experiments will be conducted under microgravity conditions. This, as he believes, will allow the cells to grow in three dimensions, including vertically, as the setup is not confined in a small container.
In addition to the physical and geometric advantage, another advantage of testing 3D biomanufacturing in the ISS is the potential to bypass the immune system. In today's medical setup, there are a lot of situations of organ transplants having complications because of rejection from the recipient's body. Researchers believe that testing the process in the ISS will help reduce this situation as growing the tissue in space may open doors for using the patient's own cells to grow the new organ; therefore, the body will not recognize the newly transplanted organ as a foreign object and might not reject it.
The plan is to use three different types of 3D biomanufacturing equipment. Two of them will be similar to a typical 3D printer, which extrudes the ink-in this case, the cells-and use layers to build the tissue. The third one will be utilizing magnets to correctly position the cells in place. All these techniques will be done in microgravity and will be made available to medical researchers, who can use the knowledge on the subject.