Astronauts could heal themselves with artificial 3D-bioprinted skin and bones grown from their own cells

As much as we think our life is difficult, astronauts definitely have it harder. As human, their bodies and its functions are more acquired to work on Earth with its gravity. As soon as they move to International Space Station, their body starts to give up as the fluids don’t move as properly and bone and muscles start to lose mass. Bones also become more prone to getting fractures.

In space there might be the latest and most complex technology available but it lacks the one necessity of humans that is the doctors. The bad news is that the environment of space tends to be on the harsher side and causes injuries. The good news is that researchers working at the Dresden Technical University have come up with 3D bioprinting technology that can be used in space to create new skin or bone tissue.

Space 3D Bioprinting

Bioprinted bone growing in a lab(Credit: University Hospital of Dresden Technical University)

Astronauts can be benefited with this method as the 3D bioprinting uses the resources available around them. The researchers at TUD have excelled to allow the astronauts to patch up their wounds by new skin patches they can print but there are two main obstacles with that. It’s hard to source the bio-inks in space and as the inks are liquid, it might be very difficult to make them stay in place with micro gravity around.

Gratefully, researchers came up with a solution to fix the source of bioinks. They have suggested that blood plasma can be used to make the skin cells and the stem cells should be able to turn into bone.

A microscope image of new bioprinted bone growing

A microscope image of new bioprinted bone growing(Credit: University Hospital of Dresden Technical University)

Nieves Cubo, member of the research team working on this project said, “skin cells can be bioprinted using human blood plasma as a nutrient-rich ‘bio-ink’ – which would be easily accessible from the mission crew member. Producing the bone sample involved printing human stem cells with a similar bio-ink composition, with the addition of a calcium phosphate bone cement as a structure-supporting material, which is subsequently absorbed during the growth phase.”

A sample of the bioprinted skin

A sample of the bioprinted skin (Credit: ESA – SJM Photography)

The second issue of the micro gravity was also solved by changing the viscosity of the plasma that was going to be used as bio-ink. Adding some compounds like methylcellulose and alginate to the plasma will increase the viscosity and keep it from running anywhere with the normal fluidity. These compounds are also easily available to astronauts as their source is plants and algae.

A sample of the bioprinted bone

A sample of the bioprinted bone. (Credit: ESA – SJM Photography)

To experiment, it wasn’t possible to create the low gravity environment of space so the scientists decided to use the 3D printer upside down to prove that the bio ink will not spill. Cubo also added, “A 3D bioprinting capability will let [astronauts] respond to medical emergencies as they arise. In the case of burns, for instance, brand new skin could be bioprinted instead of being grafted from elsewhere on the astronaut’s body, doing secondary damage that may not heal easily in the orbital environment. Or in the case of bone fractures – rendered more likely by the weightlessness of space, coupled with the partial 0.38 Earth gravity of Mars – replacement bone could be inserted into injured areas. In all cases the bioprinted material would originate with the astronaut themselves, so there would be no issue with transplant rejection.”


Upside-down 3D-printed skin and bone, for humans to Mars