ESA making progress of 3D bio-printing bone in space

The European Space Agency (ESA) has conducted a project at the University Hospital of Dresden Technical University (TUD) the have the ability to 3D print bone matter in a space like environment.

The team has turned the process upside down, literally turning a printer upside down, and successfully printed a special 3D bio-ink in minus 1g conditions in hope it can be used by future astronauts on long term space missions. You can see a quick video here.

“A journey to Mars or other interplanetary destinations will involve several years in space,” comments Tommaso Ghidini, project lead and head of Structures, Mechanisms and Materials at ESA, “The crew will run many risks, and returning home early will not be possible,” Ghidini continues, “Carrying enough medical supplies for all possible eventualities would be impossible in the limit space and mass of a spacecraft. Instead, a 3D Bioprinting compatibility will let them respond to medical emergencies as they arise.”

The first stop on ESA’s roadmap for 3D bioprinting in space is skin this is achieved using a nutrient-rich blood plasma ink, on earth. Space is a different story the ink needs a few modifications as TUD PhD fellow Nieves Cubo explains, “plasma has a highly fluid consistency, making it difficult to work with in altered gravitational conditions.”

Cubo’s team added methylcellulose, a common cosmetic and food-safe thickener, as well as an alginate found in plants and algae in order to increase viscosity. This formulae was used to 3D print skin samples and artificial bone samples.

Skin and bone bioink formulations will continue to be developed by ESA for the next ten years at least. In that time, the team also hope to start developing artificial cartilage.

Jackson, Beau, et al. “ESA Lays Groundwork for 3D Bioprinting Bone in Space.” 3D Printing Industry, 10 July 2019,