Jun 20, 2016 | By Alec

3D bioprinting is advancing by leaps and bounds, but the general consensus is that completely 3D printed and implantable organs are still years and years away. At least, that’s what we all believed until now, as a consortium led by longtime NASA contractor Techshot has just put the whole 3D bioprinting sector upside down. Together with 3D bioprinter developers nScrypt and bio-ink specialists Bioficial Organs, they have not just successfully 3D print cardiac and vascular structures, but have done so in a zero gravity environment using actual adult human stem cells. What’s more, they believe their breakthrough could provide a huge boost to 3D bioprinting efforts on earth.

Techshot itself will doubtlessly be familiar to aerospace industry watchers, as they have been developing technologies for NASA, SpaceX and other partners for more than 25 years. Among others, several of their technologies are in use aboard the ISS. They are also known for combining their aerospace specialism with the medical sector, having built the Bone Densitometer zero-gravity X ray machine. nScrypt, meanwhile, has been working on micro-dispensing and 3D printing systems for years, and built the world’s first 3D bioprinter back in 2003. The team was completed with Bioficial Organs, which has grown out of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, and specializes in organ 3D printing innovations.

Together, they set up remarkable test on June 14. Using their own prototype zero gravity 3D bioprinter, they took to the skies using a Zero Gravity Corporation aircraft – currently the only commercial company that can provide weightless flights in the US. At 30,000 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, the aircraft repeatedly produced sustained microgravity environments, enabling the researchers to test the 3D printer and produce the heart structures.

As Techshot Executive Vice President and COO John Vellinger – who was aboard the aircraft during the tests – said, everything went as smoothly as possible. “ The hardware worked flawlessly,” he said. “We’re eager to take the technology to the next level.” The goal is, of course, to develop commercial 3D printers that can be used to manufacture transplantable organs in space – both for patients in space and back on earth. Not only could it advance 3D bioprinting research, but it can obviously also provide crucial medical assistance during long-duration human exploration of deep space.

Though that will obviously take some time, this initial test was very promising. The gathered data will now be used to design and construct a smaller and more robust (autonomous) 3D bioprinter, which could be launched aboard a commercial Blue Origin suborbital space capsule as early as January 2017. If all things go according to schedule, the ISS could be equipped with a custom 3D printer capable of 3D printing thick and complex tissues by 2018.

As the researchers revealed, their success all depends on the 3D printer’s ability to create very fine layers of bio-inks. 3D printing at layers several times thinner than a human hair, the 3D bioprinter by nScrypt performed admirably. “It’s like drawing with a fine-point pen rather than a crayon,” said nScrypt Chairman and CEO Kenneth Church, Ph.D. “Some of the tips on our 3D electronics printers are nearly as small as a single human cell.”

But stem cells weren’t the only things that were 3D printed during the test. Among others, the machine also 3D printed electrically conductive and dielectric (insulative) material over the Gulf of Mexico, which will also prove crucial for future organ implants. For it is expected that organs and tissues 3D printed in space will be completed with pacing wires and biosensors, and the more that can be manufactured on a single machine, the better.

As Bioficial Organs CEO Stuart Williams revealed, 3D bioprinting in space could actually provide a huge boost to the sector, as weightless conditions make 3D printing far easier. “On earth, 3D bioprinting requires the use of thick bio-inks that can contain chemicals and other materials necessary to provide structural support,” said Williams. “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.” It did, however, require the development of a proprietary formula and manufacturing process that ensures that the stem cells stay alive and viable during transplantation.

The test thus revealed the potential of in-space organ 3D printing, and the consortium has big plans for the near future. Ultimately aiming to set up organ manufacturing plants in space, the Techshot-led team hopes to be able to 3D print an actual beating human heart patch as soon as their technology reaches the ISS. Perhaps we won’t have to wait another decade for 3D printed organs after all.

 

 

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Danica wrote at 6/20/2016 9:43:03 PM:

Wow! This is such a great post! Real awesome! Just to add, for Bone Densitometer are not cheap, but there are companies that sells used and refurbished ones, one is amberusa.com



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