3D Bioprinting Solutions, a resident company of the Skolkovo Foundation that made headlines last year when it printed the world’s first functional thyroid construct for a mouse, is to make a 3D bioprinter for printing tissue and organ constructs on board the International Space Station by 2018.

The FABION, Russia's first 3D bioprinter, made by 3D Bioprinting Solutions. Photo: 3D Bioprinting Solutions.

The news was announced Monday by Roscosmos, Russia’s state space corporation, after an agreement was signed between 3D Bioprinting Solutions and the United Rocket and Space Corporation, part of Roscosmos.

“The creation of a magnetic bioprinter will make it possible to print tissue and organ constructs in space that will be hypersensitive to the effect of cosmic radiation – sentinel glands such as thyroids - for the biomonitoring of the negative effect of space radiation over a long period of time in space, and will enable us to develop ways to counter this effect,” Roscosmos said in a statement Monday.

Work on the bioprinter will be curated by 3D Bioprinting Solutions’ chief scientific officer, Vladimir Mironov, and the printer is planned to be sent up to the International Space Station by 2018, the statement said. All work on its development and the ensuing experiment will be done in close cooperation with Energia Rocket and Space Corporation – the main developer of the Russian section of the ISS – and the Institute for Medical and Biological Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The researchers hope that the experiment on board the ISS will help to find ways to restore cosmonauts’ tissue and organs damaged during extended stays in space. 3D printing on Earth is already being developed as a way to print human organs and tissues – research that could save the lives of millions of people currently waiting on long organ donation lists.

The 3D printer will be sent to the International Space Station by 2018. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“The creation of a compact bioprinter for studying the effects of cosmic radiation on human tissue and organs with the possibility of printing organs during piloted flights into outer space is another step toward the era of manned missions to other planets,” Yury Vlasov, director of the United Rocket and Space Corporation, was quoted as saying in the Roscosmos statement.

NASA issued a statement last week saying it was not possible to determine whether cosmic ray radiation had affected the astronauts on the Apollo missions to the moon, following a study that appeared to show a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease among Apollo crew members – the only astronauts to have flown beyond Earth’s protective magnetic shield.

The U.S. space agency said it recognized the importance of research into the health effects of space radiation exposure. “Scientists also are developing unique ways to monitor and measure how radiation affects people while living in space, and to identify biological countermeasures,” the NASA statement said.

Yusef Khesuani, managing partner at 3D Bioprinting Solutions, said in the Roscosmos statement that bioprinting on the ISS in conditions of zero gravity would open up unique opportunities and allow entirely new approaches to be taken in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.

3D Bioprinting Solutions, a resident of Skolkovo’s biomed cluster, is not the only Skolkovo startup working on a 3D printer for the ISS. A printer with a very different aim – to print parts of satellites and other equipment for the ISS out of composite materials – is currently being developed by two more residents: Sputnix satellite makers and Anisoprint 3D printers, in collaboration with Moscow Polytechnic University.