0% Gravity 100% Heart

3D Printing in Zero Gravity, Techshots 3D Prints Heart Cells

3D printing in zero gravity

NASA contractor Techshot tests 3D printing in zero gravity. What did they print? A heart structure. What’s next? Oh, just a beating heart.

As if space hasn’t been cool enough this month, longtime NASA contractor Techshot finally fired up their 3D bioprinter on June 14th. The company 3D printed cardiac and vascular structures using human stem cells… in zero gravity. The group also printed electrically conductive and dielectric (insulative) material, which would prove useful for future organ implants.

The experiment took place at 30,000 feet over the Gulf of Mexico with the help of industrial 3D bioprinter manufacturer nScrypt and bio-ink developer Bioficial Organs. The heart  structure was 3D printed aboard a Zero Gravity Corporation aircraft. The printer, itself, is also pretty amazing. Given how precise bioprints must be, parts of the bioprinter are mindblowingly tiny.

“Some of the tips on our 3D electronics printers are nearly as small as a single human cell,” notes nScrypt Chairman and CEO Kenneth Church.

Nice enough to 3D print in zero gravity (Image: Techshots)
Nice enough to 3D print in zero gravity (Image: Techshots)

Why 3D Print in Zero Gravity?

It seems not only cool but pretty strange that a company would spend so much time and money on a project like this. Stuart Williams CEO and president of Bioficial Organs, however, explains that 3D bioprinting on Earth requires thick bio-inks that may contain chemicals or other troublesome materials.

“Printing tissue in space allows us to use finer print tips and lower viscosity bio-inks that contain only the biological materials needed to create a healthy organ,” continues Williams. “A space-based bioprinter has the potential to be a major game changer for human health care.”

Techshots is currently planning to put data gathered from the experiment to use by designing a smaller and more robust 3D bioprinter to be launched soon — hopefully aboard a commercial Blue Origin suborbital space capsule next January. An updated version will also be sent to the International Space Station in 2018.

And, just for good measure, the team is already planning their first ISS print: a beating human heart. Because nothing screams “dear god, what have we done?” like 3D printing a living heart in space.