Human knee cartilage 'bioprinted' on ISS in a first

Can reliable microprinting at scale make healthcare more accessible for everyone, even for those in space? This first bit of cartilage might just be the start.
Amal Jos Chacko
Redwire scientists examine a 3D printed material using bioinks.
Redwire scientists examine a 3D printed material using bioinks.


The economics of space travel make an often-glossed-over aspect of human life complicated— human health. Sure, medicines taken to space from Earth could treat a common cold. But what if the concern were more serious, like a bone injury?

Interesting Engineering has previously written about the five major challenges to healthcare in space, one of which is distance from the Earth. Keeping astronauts safe, sane, and healthy during long-term missions has fueled a demand for space-based healthcare.

Redwire Corporation, a leader in space infrastructure, announced a milestone that could transform this very aspect: a human knee meniscus 3D printed with bioink using its upgraded 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF) on the International Space Station (ISS). This facility allows for the printing with a variety of human cells, which isn’t possible in the presence of gravity.

“This is a groundbreaking milestone with significant implications for human health,” said Redwire Executive Vice President John Vellinger, in a statement.

“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,” he emphasized.

Redwire's achievement has far-reaching implications for both space exploration and healthcare for astronauts and even the general population on Earth. Meniscus injuries are known to be one of the most common injuries faced by U.S. Service Members and aging elders.

Ferried to the earth to be studied

Following the successful 3D printing in July, the print returned to the Earth onboard the SpaceX Crew-6 Mission to be thoroughly analyzed, after spending 14 days on the ISS where it was cultured in Redwire’s Advanced Space Experiment Processor (ADSEP).

This collaborative effort was conducted as part of the BFF-Meniscus-2 Investigation in partnership 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.

The investigation was carried out by a team of accomplished astronauts, including NASA's Frank Rubio, Warren "Woody" Hoburg, Stephen Bowen, and UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi.

Continued efforts for space-based biotechnology

Redwire's 3D bioprinting achievement is just one facet of the company's expanding portfolio of innovative space technologies. The company has established 20 research facilities on the ISS, with 10 currently operational, dedicated to advancing research in low-Earth orbit (LEO).

Redwire recently unveiled plans to inaugurate a 30,000-square-foot microgravity payload development facility, complete with a mission operations center at the Novaparke Innovation & Technology Campus in Floyd County, Indiana— a strategic move to bolster its capabilities.

This facility in the United States of America aims to ramp up the production of critical technologies that support human spaceflight missions and commercial microgravity research and development in LEO.

Looking ahead, Redwire is gearing up for the SpaceX CRS-29 resupply mission to the ISS scheduled for November. The company will launch microgravity research payloads focusing on pharmaceutical drug development and regenerative medicine.

Interestingly, this effort will also include an experiment involving the bioprinting of cardiac tissue, a demonstration of Redwire's commitment to pushing the boundaries of space-based biotechnology.

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