Russian space agency Roscosmos reported first successful trials of the space 3D bioprinter Organ.Aut, designed and built by the Moscow-based research company 3D Bioprinting Solutions.
3D Bioprinting Solutions’ original claim to fame came in 2015, when its staff successfully 3D printed and implanted a mouse thyroid gland, becoming the first scientific team to prove viability of 3D printed organs. That experiment was carried out with the help of the FABION 3D bioprinter (shown below
), which utilizes the common for such equipment syringe pump extrusion system. The next milestone came in the form of Organ.Aut, the first bioprinter designed to form cellular structures through magnetic field manipulation, and do so in space.
“From 2010 to 2017 a number of unique experimental studies were carried out on board the Russian segment of the ISS. The “Coulomb Crystal” project involved creating inhomogeneous magnetic fields in microgravity, in which diamagnetic particles would form specific structures. Results of the experiment on shaping spatially ordered structures formed the basis of a formative method of three-dimensional tissue biofabrication through programmed self-assembly of living tissues and organs under conditions of Earth gravity and microgravity,” says Mikhail Vasilyev, head of the Dust Plasma Diagnostics Laboratory at the Joint Institute for High Temperatures of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
The space bioprinting project came to an abrupt halt on October 13, when the Soyuz rocket carrying two astronauts, supplies and scientific equipment malfunctioned, forcing the crew to perform an emergency landing. Unfortunately, the cargo section of the ship had to be jettisoned and crashed in the steppes, taking with it the first space bioprinter. 3D Bioprinting Solutions team scrambled to prepare a replacement to be launched before the end of the year. On December 3 their efforts paid off, when Soyuz MS-11 successfully docked with the ISS, and the bioprinter was transferred aboard. The rushed preparation and delivery meant that experiments would have to be directed from the ground, since Aleksey Ovchinin, who trained to operate the equipment, was replaced on the follow-up flight by his backup, cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko.
Nevertheless, the first experiment, carried out just days after arrival, was declared a success: Organ.Aut formed its first organic construct, a roughly spheroid structure composed of thyroid cells. Due to the very nature of experiments the research program will have to be completed quickly. 3D printed biological samples will be shipped back to Earth before the end of the year to be compared to control samples, grown in the lab. Scientists hope to find out how gravity, or rather lack thereof, affects cellular growth and tissue formation.