European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer demonstrates the Bioprint FirstAid prototype during a training session. Photo via OHB/DLR/ESA.
The Bioprint FirstAid
Now onboard the ISS, the technology demonstration project aims to verify the use of the BioPrint FirstAid device for applications both on earth and in space. Throughout the project, the researchers will leverage the station’s microgravity environment to optimize bioprinting materials and processes in order to achieve viable and functional tissues for wound healing.
Under microgravity conditions, there are certain absences, such as the pressure of different layers containing cells and the potential sedimentation effect of living cell stimulants. This means the stability of the 3D printed tissue patch and its gravity-dependent crosslinking process can be better analyzed for future applications.
While the use of bioprinting for skin reconstruction is a fast-developing application, it typically requires large bioprinters that first print the tissue, allow it to mature, and then implant it into the patient. The researchers are hoping the BioPrint FirstAid will speed up and mobilize this process, due to its portable handheld nature.
The device is designed to cover a wound area on the skin by applying a bioink laden with an individual’s skin cells that acts as a patch and accelerates the healing process. Researchers on the ISS will focus on adapting the BioPrint FirstAid device for easy application within missions in extreme habitats on Earth and in space.
The prototype device onboard the ISS is dedicated to “research only”, and contains no cells. The device consists of a dosing device in the handle, a print head, support wheels, and an ink cartridge where the bioink will be stored. For this set of experiments, the cartridge will contain a substitution ink without cells and a crosslinker.
The ink will be applied to the limb of a crew member wrapped in foil, with the approach also tested with human cells for comparison back on Earth. The goal of the project is to compare the distribution pattern of the printed samples on Earth with those printed in space in order to assess its applicability under space conditions for future off-world missions and for application on Earth.