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Techshot Prints Knee Cartilage in Space

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
April 9, 2020
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NASA Astronaut and Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences graduate Dr. Andrew Morgan prepares the 3D BioFabrication Facility for meniscus test prints aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

GREENVILLE, Ind. (April 6, 2020) – Commercial space company Techshot Inc., used its space-based 3D bioprinter, called the BioFabrication Facility, or BFF, to successfully manufacture test prints of a partial human meniscus aboard the International Space Station (ISS) last month.

The meniscus pattern was manufactured for the company’s customer, the 4-Dimensional Bioprinting, Biofabrication, and Biomanufacturing, or 4D Bio3 program, based at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU). The program is a collaboration between the university and The Geneva Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that advances military medical research.

A meniscus is a crescent-shaped disc of soft cartilage that sits between the femur and the tibia. There are two menisci in each knee. The meniscus acts as a significant cushion or shock absorber, but when the meniscus tears, the cushioning effect functions poorly, which can lead to arthritis and knee pain. Meniscal injuries are one of the most commonly treated orthopedic injuries, and have a much higher incidence in military service members.

Techshot’s first experiment for 4D Bio3 aboard the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory served as a test of the materials and the processes required to print a meniscus in space. Astronaut Andrew Morgan, a medical doctor and graduate of USU, loaded biomaterials into BFF, while Techshot engineers uploaded a customer-provided design file to the printer from the company’s Payload Operations Control Center (POCC). The success of the print was evaluated via real-time video from inside the unit.

“Some of our criteria for mission success, such as the ability to work with customer-specified print materials and customer-supplied design files, were met before we even launched back on March 6,” said Techshot Senior Scientist Carlos Chang, Ph.D. “But commanding BFF to print from here at Techshot, and watching it all literally come together in real time, provided the confirmation we needed that we’re on the right track.”

Equipment and supplies for this first test launched to the ISS aboard SpaceX Mission CRS-20. Biomaterials for a second set of meniscus prints, which will be returned to Earth for more extensive physical testing, will launch on a later SpaceX mission. Launched to the station in July 2019 aboard SpaceX CRS-18, BFF is the first American bioprinter in space.

About Techshot Inc.

Founded more than 30 years ago, Techshot Inc., operates its own commercial research equipment in space and serves as the manager of NASA-owned ISS payloads – such as the Advanced Plant Habitat and two materials-science research furnaces. The company provides its catalog of equipment and services for a fee to those with their own independent research programs – serving as a one-stop resource for organizations seeking access to space.

Techshot is an official Implementation Partner for the ISS National Lab, and it has agreements with NASA that provide it access to space cargo transfer services and assistance from the on-orbit crew. The company is headquartered in Greenville, with a satellite office at the Space Life Science Laboratory at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.