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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

3D bioprinting has long held the promise of ending organ donation lists, now there’s an end in sight.

 

A team of scientists working for the NASA and SpaceX contractor Techshot have become the first people in history to successfully 3D print a heart structure in zero gravity using human stem cells.

A collaboration between Techshot, bioprinting experts nScrypt and bio-ink innovators Bioficial Organs, the project saw researchers take to the skies in a Zero Gravity Corporation aircraft – the only commercial company in the US to offer weightless flights – in order to test out their prototype printer.

 

 

“We were constrained by the timeframe of a weightless flight,” said Eugene Boland, Techshot’s Chief Scientist.

“On the Zero G aircraft, you’re only weightless for 30 seconds at a time so as a result we had to print fairly small structures – just to give us an understanding of how the printer works. While our eventual goal is to print an entire human heart, in this case it was more a neonatal-size structure, around the size of the end joint on your pinkie finger.”

Nonetheless, the mission was a rousing success and data gathered from it will now be used to design and build a smaller, more robust 3D bioprinter which could be found printing organs on board the International Space Station as soon as 2018.

 

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Going all the way to space and hitching a ride on a tricked out Airbus A310 Zero G aircraft might sound like fun but there are practical reasons for it.

“3D printers aren’t good at printing gaps,” Boland continues.

“They’re good at solid things, not hollow things. That makes it very difficult to print a heart in an environment like Earth where you have gravity, because the organ collapses in on itself. But if you go to space and take gravity out of the equation, you don’t have those same problems. It makes the possibility of this kind of bioprinting more feasible. And you could potentially save many, many lives as a result – since currently tens of thousands of people on the heart transplant list die each year. That’s where we envision this technology going.”

 

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, CNBC, Discovery, RT, and Viacom, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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