Redwire Corporation, a prominent space infrastructure company, has achieved a groundbreaking milestone by successfully 3D printing a human knee meniscus aboard the International Space Station (ISS), as reported by Interesting Engineering. This achievement marks a significant advancement in the field of 3D bioprinting and holds profound implications for human health, particularly in addressing meniscal injuries, which are among the most common injuries experienced by U.S. Service Members.
A Journey to Microgravity Bioprinting
The vast distance from Earth poses significant challenges for healthcare delivery during extended space missions, leading to a growing demand for space-based healthcare solutions. While conventional medicines from Earth can address common illnesses, the situation becomes more complex when dealing with injuries like bone fractures.
Utilizing their upgraded 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF) on the ISS, Redwire Corporation successfully accomplished the 3D printing of a human knee meniscus. What sets this achievement apart is the fact that it was executed in the microgravity environment of space, where the absence of Earth’s gravity enables the printing of intricate tissues using various human cell types.
John Vellinger, Redwire’s Executive Vice President, emphasized the significance of this achievement, stating, “This is a groundbreaking milestone with significant implications for human health. Demonstrating the ability to successfully print complex tissue such as this meniscus is a major leap forward toward the development of a repeatable microgravity manufacturing process for reliable bioprinting at scale.”
The Journey Back to Earth
Following the successful 3D printing process conducted in July, the printed meniscus embarked on its journey back to Earth aboard the SpaceX Crew-6 Mission. Before returning, it spent 14 days on the ISS, where it was cultured in Redwire’s Advanced Space Experiment Processor (ADSEP). This meticulous analysis back on Earth will provide valuable insights into the quality and suitability of the bio-printed tissue for medical applications.
A Collaborative Effort for Human Health
This remarkable achievement was made possible through collaboration with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Center for Biotechnology (4D Bio3), a biomedical research center dedicated to exploring and adapting promising biotechnologies for the benefit of warfighters. A team of accomplished astronauts, including NASA’s Frank Rubio, Warren “Woody” Hoburg, Stephen Bowen, and UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, played a pivotal role in conducting the investigation.
Redwire’s Expanding Space Technologies Portfolio
Redwire’s success in 3D bioprinting represents just one facet of its growing portfolio of space technologies. The company has established 20 research facilities on the ISS, with ten currently operational, focused on advancing research in the unique microgravity environment of low Earth orbit. Additionally, Redwire is gearing up to open a 30,000-square-foot microgravity payload development facility in Indiana, USA. This state-of-the-art facility, equipped with a mission operations center, aims to accelerate the production of key technologies for human spaceflight missions and commercial microgravity research in low Earth orbit.
The Future of Space-Based Biotechnology
Looking ahead, Redwire is preparing for the SpaceX CRS-29 resupply mission to the ISS scheduled for November. During this mission, the company will launch microgravity research payloads with a focus on pharmaceutical drug development and regenerative medicine. Notably, this effort will include an experiment involving the bioprinting of cardiac tissue, underscoring Redwire’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of space-based biotechnology.
By Impact Lab