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Bio Plaster Produced from the 3D Printer Aboard the International Space Station

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
February 5, 2022
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Matthias Maurer at the Bioprint FirstAid experiment. (Credit: NASA/ESA)
  • As part of the “Cosmic Kiss” mission, the German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer carried out the Bioprint FirstAid experiment on the International Space Station (ISS).
  • The long-term goal of the experiment is to cover skin wounds with bio-ink from a 3D printer like a band-aid.
  • The new technology should help to significantly improve wound care on space missions, but also in daily medical use on Earth.

BONN, Germany (DLR PR) — Human cells from the 3D printer, with which skin wounds can be covered like an adhesive plaster – that is the long-term goal of the Bioprint FirstAid experiment. As part of the mission “Cosmic Kiss”, the German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer has now carried out the test series on the International Space Station. The mobile hand-held device is intended to significantly improve wound care on space missions, but also in daily medical use on earth. 

“With Bioprint FirstAid, this innovative technology has now been tested for the first time under space conditions,” says Dr. Michael Becker, Bioprint FirstAid project manager in the German Space Agency at DLR in Bonn. “Bioprinting is an important step towards personalized medicine in space and on earth.”

The bioprinter can be operated mechanically and consists of a handle, a print head, guide wheels and two cartridges for the bio-ink with which the plaster-like wound covering is made. During the experiment on the ISS, this ink was first applied to a film on Matthias Maurer’s leg. Two differently composed bio-inks and two different print heads were used. 

Experiment Bioprinter FirstAid (Credit: OHB)

“In the first step, the technology experiment will not use real human cells, but fluorescent microparticles,” says Becker. “The findings should help scientists to further develop the technology and make it applicable for patients.”

Better wound healing in space and on Earth

Due to its compact design and easy, mobile use, the pressure technology not only has real potential for use in doctor’s offices and clinics, but also for flexible treatment in places that are difficult to access or isolated. The bioprinter can be used both on future long-term space missions and on research stations in remote locations such as Antarctica.

Bio plaster on the leg of Matthias Maurer (Credit: NASA/ESA)

After the experiment is complete, the patches printed on the ISS will be returned to Earth by spacecraft for further testing and analysis. In the meantime, scientists from the Technical University of Dresden conducted comparative experiments on the ground to verify the results of the ISS experiment after their return. The aim of this study is to investigate the printing behavior as a function of different printing nozzles and different bio-inks. It is also being investigated how the microparticles were distributed in zero gravity.

In order to discuss possible applications of 3D printing in medicine at an international level, the German Space Agency at DLR, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the TU Dresden are planning a workshop on March 15th and 16th, 2022 in Dresden on the topic “Bioprinting in space”. Participants in this exchange will be astronauts and experts in the fields of bioprinting and life science research in space.

The Bioprint FirstAid experiment was commissioned by the German Space Agency at DLR with funds from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK) . The apparatus was developed and built by OHB System AG in collaboration with scientists from Technical University of Dresden.

The Mission “Cosmic Kiss”

DLR is involved in the Cosmic Kiss mission in many ways: The German Space Agency at DLR, based in Bonn, is responsible for selecting and coordinating the experiments and German contributions. DLR scientists also carry out their own experiments. ESA’s Columbus Control Center, located in German space control center of DLR in Oberpfaffenhofen, is responsible for planning and conducting the experiments that take place in the European Columbus module on the ISS. From here, the data from the experiments goes to the national user control centers and from there to the scientists and the partners from industry involved.