NASA has been using 3D printing for decades now, and few organizations can top their experience or resourcefulness with the technology. NASA tends to make big news with 3D printing, most of it centered around rockets and Mars, as well as inspiring student challenges. While the organization has also been 3D printing in space on the International Space Station since the first 3D printer in space arrived in 2014, and continuing to develop new technologies to do so, many may be surprised to hear that they are now investigating the uses of bioprinting in space, with their team at the International Space Station working to improve on their technique, beginning with handling. As usual, the lack of gravity lends an extra challenge to research that is already complex.
The current goals with bioprinting at the Space Station are to:
- Reduce loss of cells from cultures
- Create cultures in specific shapes
- Improve retrieval of cells for use in analysis
Currently, researchers are adding gold atoms to add strength to the cultures in space. Consequently, they can then be handled with magnets, allowing for successful bioprinting.
Research also shows that the gold will not interfere with the cells. In space, researchers can bioprint and then make comparisons with conventional research on Earth. Ultimately, they will be able to improve their bioprinting work in space.
More importantly, Zea sees great potential for this work in cancer research, as they might be able to use the bioprinting cultures to study and target different types of cancer. Performing this work in the space arena could even lower development expenses.