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3D printing plaster-like wound covering in space

01 February 2022

Human cells in a 3D printer that can be used to cover wounds like a sticking plaster – this is the long-term goal of the Bioprint FirstAid experiment.

(Matthias Mau­r­er con­duct­ing the Bio­print FirstAid Ex­per­i­ment. Credit: NASA/ESA)
(Matthias Mau­r­er con­duct­ing the Bio­print FirstAid Ex­per­i­ment. Credit: NASA/ESA)

As part of his 'Cosmic Kiss' mission, German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer has now carried out this series of experiments on the International Space Station (ISS). The mobile handheld device is intended to significantly improve wound treatment on space missions, but also in daily medical use on Earth. 

"With Bioprint FirstAid, this innovative technology has now been tested under space conditions for the first time," says Michael Becker, Bioprint FirstAid Project Manager for the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). "Bioprinting is an important step towards personalised medicine in space and on Earth."

The Bioprinter can be operated manually and consists of a handle, a print head, guide wheels and two cartridges for the bio-ink that is used to produce the plaster-like wound covering. During the experiment on the ISS, this ink was first applied to a foil on Matthias Maurer's leg. Two bio-inks with different compositions and two different print heads were used. "The technology experiment has not yet used real human cells in this first step, but fluorescent microparticles," says Becker. "The findings will help scientists to further develop the technology and enable applications for patients."

(The Bio­print­er FirstAid de­vice. Credit: OHB)
(The Bio­print­er FirstAid de­vice. Credit: OHB)

Improved wound healing in space and on Earth

Due to its compact design and easy, mobile use, the printing technology has great potential not only for use in medical practices and clinics, but also for flexible treatment in remote locations or places that are difficult to access. Thus, the Bioprinter can be used on future long-term space missions as well as at research stations in remote locations, such as Antarctica.

Once the experiment has been completed, the patches printed on the ISS will be brought back to Earth for further testing and analysis. In the meantime, scientists from the Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden) are conducting comparative experiments on the ground to verify the results of the ISS experiment following the return of the plasters. This investigation aims to explore the behaviour of the system as a function of different pressure nozzles and different bio-inks. In addition, the distribution of microparticles in microgravity will be investigated.

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