This artificial bone sample is an early step towards making 3D bioprinting a practical tool for emergency medicine in space. Credit: ESA-Remedia
This artificial bone sample is an early step towards making 3D bioprinting a practical tool for emergency medicine in space. An ESA R&D effort aims to develop bioprinting techniques capable of giving astronauts on an extended mission ready access to the ‘spare parts’ needed for bone or skin grafts, and even complete internal organs.
3D bioprinting may soon be practical on Earth, and could help meet the challenging conditions of spaceflight. Astronauts in zero or low gravity lose bone density, for example, so fractures may be more likely in orbit or on Mars.
Or, treating a burn often involves a graft of skin taken from a patient’s body – manageable on Earth with full hospital care but more risky in space, as the secondary damage may not heal easily.
Skin or bone can be bioprinted using a nutrient-rich ’bio-ink’ of human blood plasma, available from the astronauts themselves. By working upside down – in ‘minus 1g’ gravity – the team has shown they can probably do it in space.