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An ESA-led project is investigating the use of 3D bioprinting to support medical treatment of long-duration space expeditions and planetary settlements. Leading experts from the field met at ESA’s ESTEC centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands for a two-day workshop in September 2018.
In the same way as standard 3D printers use plastics or metals to construct three-dimensional objects, 3D bioprinters use ‘bio-inks’ based on human cells, and the nutrients and materials needed to regrow body tissue such as skin, bone and cartilage. Temporary ‘scaffolds’ can be printed at the same time to provide stability and the optimum physical conditions to promote reconstruction.
Printing entire organs is a next-decade goal, but involves the precise combination of multiple cell and tissue types to work together as one.
Workshop participants discussed the current status of 3D bioprinting, and the work still to be done to advance the practice from lab research to the point where it can help both terrestrial and astronaut patients – which include regulatory as well as medical and technological challenges.