America’s First Automated Space Bioprinter Launching to ISS National Lab on SpaceX CRS-18

The 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF) is the first 3D printer capable of manufacturing human tissue (including, someday, organs) in the microgravity condition of space. (Credit: Techshot)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., July 17, 2019 (ISS National Lab PR) – A new facility will be launching to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s 18th commercial resupply services (CRS-18) mission, seeking to enable cutting-edge biotechnology research onboard the orbiting research laboratory. Techshot, a commercial facility partner, has partnered with NASA and the ISS U.S. National Laboratory to launch the first American bioprinter, known as the 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF). The BFF is slated to launch to the space station no earlier than July 21, 7:35p.m. EDT aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.

While researchers on Earth have had limited success in printing human elements like bones and cartilage, the ability for them to manufacture soft human tissue, such as blood vessels, has proven to be much more difficult. Specifically, the bioinks used in 3D bioprinting have a low viscosity, and on Earth, scientists must use scaffolding to support bioprinted structures and prevent them from collapsing. However, this scaffolding makes it difficult to construct void spaces needed in tissues. Bioprinting in microgravity could prove beneficial because scaffolding is not needed to keep printed structures from collapsing, allowing scientists to overcome what has been a significant hurdle in ground-based biomanufacturing of human organs.

To further assist in the printing of human elements on the space station through the BFF, Techshot has partnered with nScrypt, widely regarded as one of the most reputable 3D-printing companies in the world. As mentioned, one of the constraints to bioprinting on Earth are the bioinks used in keeping formation of printed elements. nScrypt’s patented SmartPump Micro-Dispensing tool head enables precise placement of bioink, thereby enabling stronger formation of printed materials. Together, these two companies will seek to validate the BFF by attempting initially simple engineering prints, followed by more complex cardiac-like tissue, and placing the prints in Techshot’s cell-culturing system to strengthen the tissue over time. Once the tissue is viable and self-supporting, it will be sent back to Earth for further analysis.

According to the CDC, on any given day in the United States, an estimated 75,000 people are on the active waiting list for organs, far exceeding the organs available for patients. While the road to assembling a human lung or other organs is likely still many years away, the space station is enabling researchers and engineers the ability to develop, test, and validate new facilities that could have dramatic impacts on patient care back on Earth. Moreover, through the emergence of new facilities on the space station that are available for ISS National Lab users (more than 15 commercial facilities have been installed since 2012), the orbiting laboratory is evolving to the needs of the modern day research community, providing more opportunities for groundbreaking, innovative science.

To learn more about the BFF, please visit; https://ww2.iss-casis.org/e/51802/bioprinter-/c4ylyg/865182733?h=j2nFxfm0rSkEC2eZGp79B8byQTWkSE_GpDijbtk1rII.

To learn more about ISS National Lab-sponsored payloads on SpaceX CRS-18, visit our launch coverage page.