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RSC Energia: hardware for growing human tissues is ready for delivery to the ISS

July 25, 2018

The hardware for the first Russian commercial experiment "Magnetic 3D-bioprinter" being prepared in close cooperation with Roscosmos, RSC Energia and TsNIIMash specialists is planned to be sent to the ISS this autumn.

The applicant of the experiment is biotechnological research laboratory "3D Bioprinting Solutions" - a Russian start-up being a "daughter company" of Invitro. For the first time in Russia the applicant organization itself pays for the development and testing of the science hardware.

The 3D-bioprinter is designed for growing human tissues and subsequently organs. It can also be used to study the effect of space environment on living objects in long-distance flights: skin samples, internal organs, etc. grown in space from real cells.

- Our task was to assess the feasibility of this experiment, ensure control over the preparation of necessary hardware, i.e. the printer itself and biomaterial cells for in-orbit delivery conditions, and the results obtained for return to the ground. In addition, RSC Energia specialists organized the whole set of necessary certification procedures for such hardware according to the ISS international safety rules, - said Dmitry Surin, Deputy Head of Science and Technical Center, RSC Energia.

Two sets of hardware have already been manufactured. One set being a prototype model has already passed all required ground stand-alone tests at RSC Energia and the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The second one being a training model was used for the crewmember training: the prime crewmember (Alexey Ovchinin) and backup (Oleg Kononenko). Training at GCTC with the participation of specialists from 3D Bioprinting Solutions and RSC Energia has already been completed, all comments and proposals made by the cosmonauts will be taken into account.

The third set being a flight model of the hardware for experiment "Magnetic 3D-bioprinter" is being prepared for delivery to the ISS in autumn. The cells will be filled with chemical reagents necessary for fabrication and subsequent fixation of the grown material, as well as with bio-samples from which the final structure will be built. At the end of the first experiment phase scientists are planning to obtain samples of 2-3 mm in size. It is planned that this will be a cartilaginous human tissue and a rodent's thyroid gland.

Biological samples are very sensitive to the storage duration, so the experiment shall be started immediately after the arrival of cosmonauts and hardware to the ISS. The experiment results shall be returned to ground this winter. The bio-samples arriving from orbit will be met by RSC Energia specialist, who will ensure their prompt delivery to the biologists-applicants of the experiment.

In the future the bioprinter can be used by both the experiment applicants and external scientific teams. Its intended lifetime is five years.

Speaking about the principle of 3D-bioprinter operation, it is worth noting that this name is rather conventional: the device has no moving parts, and the process of material growing is not additive, i.e. layerwise, a "formative" principle is applied, when a sample is growing in a strong magnetic field in microgravity. Cameras GoPro are installed inside the device, which will help to observe the progress of the experiment.

In the long term, this technique can be applied to produce organs from biomaterials of specific patients delivered to orbit. There are two obvious advantages to this technique: no need to wait until a donor organ suitable for transplantation appears, and the issue of survival is immediately solved. Another possible application of the bioprinter is to grow protein foods, for example,  space "forcemeat " which will continue to grow with consuming.

Biofabrication under the proposed technology can be practiced on the Earth, but such a facility would be very bulky and would require significant material and energy costs. According to some estimates, its energy consumption is comparable with energy consumption of a small town.

 

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