This week, Techshot Inc. announced the successful bioprinting of a meniscus onboard the ISS National Lab. Techshot’s BioFabrication Facility (lovingly termed the BFF) launched on SpaceX’s 18th commercial resupply services (CRS) mission and completed its first space-based prints in December 2019 using human heart cells. Materials for this new print were launched in March on SpaceX CRS-20, allowing the Techshot team to manufacture test prints of a partial human meniscus.
The meniscus is the C-shaped cartilage of the knee that provides a cushion between the thighbone and shinbone. Meniscus tears are a common orthopedic injury, particularly in athletic populations and military service members.
These diverse rounds of test prints are helping to pave the way for Techshot to announce that the BFF is open for business and ready for use by industrial and institutional life science customers. Bioprinting in microgravity may allow scientists to overcome significant hurdles in ground-based biomanufacturing of human organs, for example by possibly eliminating the need for scaffolding to support printed tissue.
The BFF is the first American bioprinter in space, using adult human cells and proteins to create tissues onboard the ISS. Unlike the Russian bioprinting facility that launched earlier in 2019 and uses magnetic particles to generate cell clusters, the BFF employs a direct dispensing method of gel materials through four different print heads, similar to methods for 3D printing with plastics.
Long-term success of the BFF as a human-organ manufacturing system could enable potential medical breakthroughs including the creation of patient-specific replacement tissues or patches. It also holds potential to one day help mitigate the organ shortage crisis. More than 112,000 people are currently on transplant waiting lists in the U.S., but only 0.3% of deaths occur in a way that allows for organ donation.
The BFF is one of more than a dozen commercially operated facilities onboard the ISS National Lab. In-orbit commercial facility managers provide ISS National Lab users with operational experience, engineering support, and lab equipment to support cutting-edge science in space. Techshot operates several commercial facilities on the ISS, including a bone densitometer that allows crew members to study spaceflight-induced bone loss in rodents, helping to provide a better understanding of both the effects of spaceflight on the human body and the mechanisms behind Earth-based conditions like osteoporosis.