3D Printing

Bioprinting in space to “address critical health challenges”

12th September 2023
Sheryl Miles

Researchers from the University of Manchester are embarking on a two-year project aimed at transforming bioprinting technology in microgravity environments.

This endeavour seeks to address critical health challenges faced by astronauts during extended space missions.

Bioprinting is an innovative field that involves the precise printing of living cells to generate various body parts, such as skin, bone, tissue, and even organs, with the potential for transplantation. Specialised 3D printers are employed in this process, holding the promise of transforming medicine, particularly within the realm of space travel, where bioprinting could have a profound impact.

During extended space missions, astronauts confront heightened health risks due to the absence of gravity and increased exposure to harmful radiation. These factors render them more susceptible to conditions like osteoporosis, resulting from decreased bone density, and potentially causing injuries like bone fractures, which currently cannot be effectively treated in space.

The primary objective of this research project is to harness the potential of bioprinting in space to safeguard the well-being of space explorers. Presently, bioprinting machines depend on Earth's gravity for optimal operation. However, in microgravity conditions prevalent in space, this technology faces unique challenges.

Funded by a £200,000 grant from the UK Space Agency and supported by the European Space Agency, The University of Manchester's pioneering research seeks to understand how to optimise the bioprinting process for space conditions, including the absence of gravity.

Dr. Marco Domingos, Senior Lecturer in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering at The University of Manchester, expressed the significance of this project, stating: "This project marks a significant leap forward in bioprinting technology, and by addressing the challenges posed by microgravity, we are paving the way for remarkable advancements in medicine and space exploration."

Libby Moxon, Exploration Science Officer for Lunar and Microgravity, emphasised the importance of this undertaking in strengthening the UK's leadership in fluid mechanics, soft matter physics, and biomaterials. She noted that the research could help protect the health of astronauts exploring not only Earth's orbit but also the Moon and beyond.

The research team, led by Dr. Domingos and including Prof. Anne Juel and Dr. Igor Chernyavsky, plans to take their findings to a bioprinting station under development aboard the International Space Station. This station will enable researchers to conduct bioprinting experiments in space and study the impact of radiation and microgravity on the printed models.

Dr. Domingos acknowledged the initial challenge of printing in microgravity, explaining that few facilities in the UK are suitable for studying the bioprinting process under space-like conditions. He emphasised the importance of conducting experiments in space to advance our knowledge in this field.

This project will unfold over two years at the Bioprinting Technology Platform, located at the Henry Royce Institute on The University of Manchester's campus. The ultimate goal is not only to address the challenges posed by microgravity but also to explore solutions for preserving, transporting, and processing cells in space, marking a significant step forward in the field of space medicine and exploration.

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