Astronauts Test 3D Printed Bandages Made From Their Skin Cells in the ISS

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Bioprint FirstAid Handheld Bioprinter
Above: ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer is shown during preflight training for the BioPrint First Aid investigation/Image Source: ESA

DLR, the German Space Agency, announced that it has developed the Bioprint FirstAid Handheld Bioprinter. The device can bioprint 3D printed bandages made from skin cells of the user. This bioprinter recently arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) with the occasion of SpaceX’s 24th cargo resupply mission.

The astronauts abord the ISS are now testing the handheld bioprinter which uses viable cells and biological molecules to print tissue structures.

Bioprint FirstAid Handheld Bioprinter

Bioprint FirstAid Handheld Bioprinter
Above: The Bioprint FirstAid Handheld Bioprinter uses viable cells and biological molecules to print tissue structures/Image Source: OHB/DLR/ESA

Although the International Space Station has had an excellent safety record over its nearly 25-year existence, astronauts still face significant risks. In the event of a medical emergency, for example, the crew does not have access to a fully equipped modern hospital and doctors. There is no outside assistance possible, which is why all astronauts are required to complete medical training before arriving at the space station.

As we spread our wings beyond our home planet, having a space-compatible medical infrastructure becomes increasingly important. This is why astronauts on the International Space Station are currently testing a novel bioink 3D printer capable of creating tissue structures from their own skin cells. The handheld bioprinter, which resembles a tape dispenser, would be used in real-time to apply a tissue-forming bandage to the injury site.

Traditional 3D bioprinters are bulky and require a lengthy culturing phase in order for the patches to mature. The Bioprint FirstAid handheld bioprinter, on the other hand, is small enough to hold in your hand.

“On human space exploration missions, skin injuries need to be treated quickly and effectively. Mobile bioprinting could significantly accelerate the healing process. The personalised and individual bioprinting-based wound treatment could have a great benefit and is an important step for further personalised medicine in space and on Earth.”

– Michael Becker, Project manager from the German Space Agency at DLR

3D Printed Bandage for Space

3D Printed Bandage for Space
Above: Bioprinted tissue patch for enhanced wound healing/Image Source: ESA

For the time being, fluorescent microparticles will be used instead of real human cells in the technology demonstration. These microparticles, when combined with two fast-curing gels, form a plaster-like wound covering that will be printed onto an astronaut’s foil-covered arm or leg and returned to Earth for further testing.

The tissue layers may function differently than they do on Earth, which is why scientists are taking precautions before allowing such a device to be used in a true medical emergency. For example, we know that microgravity lengthens the time required for healing.

Bioprinted skin patches for wound healing would contain the target patient’s cells, lowering the risk of rejection. The technology may even be useful during medical emergencies on Earth, as doctors and medical workers could use it at the site of injury instead of transporting a patient to a hospital.

“From a scientific standpoint, the major challenges for off-planet laundering include the strict requirements for compatibility with the air purification systems, the limited amount of water available per each wash treatment, and the requirement that the laundry wash water be purified back to drinkable water.”

– Mark Sivik, a research fellow at P&G

NASA also sent studies on monoclonal antibodies for cancer therapies, changes in immune function, plant gene expression changes, and citizen science projects during the same resupply mission that delivered the Bioprint FirstAid to the ISS in December 2021. Tide Infinity, a fully biodegradable detergent specifically designed for use in space, was also distributed to astronauts. Because the crew of the space station wears an item of clothing several times before replacing it with brand new clothes delivered by resupply mission, these innovations pave the way for the first laundromats outside of Earth.

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Manufactur3D is an Indian Online 3D Printing Media Platform that reports on the latest news, insights and analysis from the Indian and the Global 3D Printing Industry.
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