NASA Funds Techshot to Develop In-Space Manufacturing of Microfluidic Chips

NASA has selected Techshot for funding to develop in-space manufacturing of microfluidic chips — aka, organs on chips (OOC) — for use in biological research aboard the International Space Station.

The space agency selected the project for funding under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I program. The six-month contract is worth a maximum of $125,000.

“OOCs are microfluidic 3D cell culture devices that closely mimic the key physiological functions of body organs,” the company said in its proposal summary. “The chips are not designed to mimic an entire organ but simulate the physiology of a single functional unit of an organ system. They have resulted from scientific advances in cell biology, microfabrication and microfluidics which allow the emulation of the human micro environment in vitro….

“Techshot has designed and built the first multi-head, ISS resident bioprinter with culture capability,” the summary said. “The methods and system we are proposing here could print micro-organs in this facility to address the emerging OOC market and exploit the unique research potentials in microgravity.”

A summary of the proposal follows.

In-Space Manufacturing of Microfluidic Chips for Biological Research
Subtopic Title: Low Earth Orbit Platform Utilization and Microgravity Research

Principal Investigator
Eugene Boland

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 3
End: 5

Technical Abstract

According to a recent Grand View Research report, the global 3D bioprinting market size was valued at USD 965.0 million in 2018 and is anticipated to grow at over 19.5% for the next 10 years. This includes all aspects of medical materials including metals, plastics, ceramics, biomaterials, cells, tissues and organ substitutes. Advances in bioprinting are gaining importance and the tissues generated will soon become available for transplantation.

In parallel, however, the use of human tissue analogs is becoming increasing valuable in drug discovery. The tissue chip and micro-organ fields are growing at compound annual growth rate exceeding 34%. These technologies and products are collectively known as organs-on-chips (OOCs).

OOCs are microfluidic 3D cell culture devices that closely mimic the key physiological functions of body organs. The chips are not designed to mimic an entire organ but simulate the physiology of a single functional unit of an organ system. They have resulted from scientific advances in cell biology, microfabrication and microfluidics which allow the emulation of the human micro environment in vitro.

This unique feature of OOCs is made possible by integrating biology with advanced engineering technologies such as bioprinting. Human OOCs are miniaturized versions of lungs, livers, kidneys, heart, brain, intestines and other vital human organs embedded in a chip.

The OOC and bioprinting fields are intrinsically linked and many groups, including Techshot researchers, are looking to leverage bioprinting OOCs to circumvent fundamental structural challenges faced in the race to bioprint large-scale organs for research and discovery.

To this end, Techshot has designed and built the first multi-head, ISS resident bioprinter with culture capability. The methods and system we are proposing here could print micro-organs in this facility to address the emerging OOC market and exploit the unique research potentials in microgravity.

Potential NASA Applications

Techshot will offer the Organ-on-a-Chip (OOC) manufacturing capability to microgravity researchers and NASA’s Exploration Medicine Capability (ExMC) element. Personalized medicine and basic research are possible with OOCs to improve astronauts’ health and predict the physiological changes that occur with long-term space exposure. This OOC in-space manufacturing capability could help enable human pioneering beyond low earth orbit.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

Applications involve drug testing and individualized drug responses. The FDA is striving to reduce the dependency on animal and human clinical experimentation. Billions are spent on drugs that fail in efficacy trials. By understanding OOCs, humanized systems can evaluate drug responses to specific diseases or chips unique to individual patients can be made to evaluate treatment regimens.

Duration: 6 months