In a groundbreaking achievement at the intersection of space exploration and biotechnology, Redwire (NYSE: RDW) has achieved the first 3D bioprinted meniscus aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Utilizing their upgraded BioFabrication Facility (BFF), Redwire accomplished the intricate task of creating complex tissue structures in the unique microgravity environment of the ISS.
This milestone was part of the BFF-Meniscus-2 Investigation, conducted in collaboration with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Center for Biotechnology (4D Bio3). The investigation with 3D bioprinted meniscus primary goal is to explore and adapt cutting-edge biotechnologies, potentially benefiting US military personnel and humanity.
3D Bioprinting in Microgravity: A Game-Changer for Biotechnology
The heart of this achievement lies in the microgravity conditions of the ISS, where the BFF employed a bioink composed of living human cells. With meticulous precision, the 3D bioprinter layered these cells to construct the intricate tissue structure of the 3D bioprinted meniscus. Following successful bioprinting, the newly formed meniscus was promptly transferred to Redwire’s Advanced Space Experiment Processor (ADSEP). Inside this controlled environment, which simulates essential conditions for cellular growth, including temperature, humidity, and nutrient supply, the tissue underwent a 14-day cultivation process.
After this period, the tissue matured and solidified, transforming from a mere scaffold into a functional bioengineered tissue. It was then prepared for its journey back to Earth, securely stored onboard the SpaceX Crew-6 mission, which safely splashed down off the coast of Florida on September 4, 2023.
A Pioneering Journey in In-Space Biotechnology with 3D Bioprinted Meniscus
This extraordinary accomplishment originated in extensive research and development focused on harnessing the potential of microgravity environments for bioprinting. The journey began with the partnership between Redwire and the ISS National Laboratory in May. The knee meniscus, a vital component of the complex human joint system, often requires medical interventions due to tears, which can elevate the risk of arthritis or necessitate knee replacement surgery. Pursuing a superior solution led Redwire to explore the possibilities of conducting bioprinting experiments aboard the ISS.
Rich Boling, Vice President at Redwire, emphasized the transformative potential of the BFF: “The BFF is a game-changing technology that could have significant implications for the future of human health and patient care on Earth.” The upgraded BFF was transported to the ISS in November 2022, seizing the unparalleled opportunity offered by microgravity for bioprinting tasks that would be nearly impossible to achieve under Earth’s gravitational pull.
The expertise of 4D Bio3 in exploring promising biotechnologies proved invaluable in this endeavor. The choice of printing a 3D bioprinted meniscus as the facility’s inaugural project was strategic. The meniscus is “avascular,” lacking blood vessels, which often poses a challenge in large-scale 3D printing. By starting with the meniscus, Redwire was already closer to replicating human tissue than if they had attempted more complex organs like the heart. This accomplishment with 3D bioprinted meniscus builds upon prior successes, where Redwire’s BFF had previously printed cardiac tissue and a meniscus-shaped scaffold without living cells in 2019. The upgraded BFF featured improved temperature control and imaging systems, enabling the team to enhance their control over the bioprinting process.
Implications for the Military and Beyond
This achievement of 3D bioprinted meniscus in space can revolutionize the treatment of meniscal injuries, which are significantly more common among military service members than civilians, with over 8,000 meniscal procedures performed annually within the Department of Defense. Despite its frequency, progress in treating meniscal injuries has lagged behind other areas in tissue engineering. This is precisely why 4D Bio3 has partnered with Redwire in this initiative, to develop a 3D bioprinted meniscus tissue model that can help address this type of injury.
The investigation, conducted by NASA astronauts alongside UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, underscores 4D Bio3’s commitment to advancing biotechnological solutions for both military personnel and civilians.
Between the initial groundwork in May and the subsequent milestones reached in July, Redwire and 4D Bio3 have constructed a timeline that signifies more than just technological innovation. Embedded in the bioprinted knee meniscus is hope for improved healthcare solutions, not only on Earth but also in the realm of space exploration.
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