Scientists 3D print human tissue in space

The researchers 3D printed KFC nuggets, too. Both accomplishments could lead to prolonged space travel.

In a giant leap for bioprinting, researchers have 3D printed human cartilage on the International Space Station — hinting at a future of printing entire body parts during space travel. 

Who needs a kidney when you can 3D print a new one? Replacement parts could come in handy for long-haul astronauts or Martian colonists since human body parts have been shown to atrophy in space and low-gravity environments. A Russian startup called 3D Bioprinting Solutions believes that they can make bioprinting spare organs, tissues, or other body parts a promising option for future space travelers.

The company has had a busy week, having just announced a partnership with KFC to 3D print their — already mysterious — chicken nuggets using meat grown in a lab. Now, they have also revealed the results of a study conducted in space by Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononoenko in 2018. The research, published July 15 in the journal Science Advances, shows how Kononoenko printed and assembled human cartilage cells in near-zero gravity on the space station.

Kononoenko used a 3D print machine called BioprinterOrgan.Aut to perform tissue engineering in space, using two opposing magnets to float and assemble cells in a process called “magnetic levitational bioassembly.” The magnetic field pushes the cells toward each other, aiding in assembly by stitching the cells together into tissue.

“One could imagine not too far in the future that if we colonize Mars or do long-term space travel, we might want to do experiments where we build functional tissues in space, and test them in extraterrestrial environments,” Stanford researcher and author of the paper, Utkan Demirci, told IEEE Spectrum.

The goal is to 3D print entire body parts in space and artificially mimic other biological processes. Doing so could help minimize the effects of prolonged time in space, allowing astronauts to travel further.

“We also conducted experiments in space on fabricating the mouse thyroid gland, fabricating meat, fabricating bones, fabricating three-dimensional bacterial biofilms, as well as crystallizing and growing crystals of protein compounds in a new method,” Vladislav Parfenov, 3D Bioprinting Solutions’ chief designer, told in an email, describing previous ISS missions.

Just imagine — space travel, spare body parts, and endless chicken nuggets — it isn’t the work of science fiction.

Two-story 3D-printed house is first of its kind in the US
The US’s first two-story 3D-printed house is being built in Houston, Texas, from a mix of concrete and wood.
This 3D-printed home is made entirely of bio-based materials
Maine researchers are testing a new approach to 3D printing homes, swapping out the standard concrete “ink” for a material made of wood waste.
NASA invests $57 million in a 3D laser printer to build moon bases
NASA has invested $57.2 into construction company ICON’s 3D printer for building on the moon, Mars, and beyond.
ISS experiment will 3D print a body part in microgravity 
An International Space Station experiment to test 3D-printing in microgravity could help end the organ shortage on Earth.
3D-printed wood furniture could ship flat, then dry into shape
A new way of 3D printing wood that takes advantage of warping could change how we build things in the future.
Up Next
vegan steak
Subscribe to Freethink for more great stories