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In a First, Russian Cosmonaut Performs Tissue Engineering in Space

Scientists are working for those times when you might need surgery on Mars.

In a First, Russian Cosmonaut Performs Tissue Engineering in Space
Sewing cells together into tissue, using a machine that creates a magnetic fieldIEEE Spectrum/YouTube

Voyaging through time and space for a long time requires us to handle numerous different aspects of space trips that you might have not thought about before -- one example being, patching up injuries when it is necessary to be self-reliant.

A Russian cosmonaut on board the International Space Station has just engineered human cartilage in the microgravity of space using magnetism for the first time.

In a First, Russian Cosmonaut Performs Tissue Engineering in Space
Source: IEEE Spectrum

The researchers think their findings have the possibility to improve deep space travel in the future. 

SEE ALSO: ASTRONOMERS CREATE 'FIFTH STATE OF MATTER' IN THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION

Machines previously relied on gravity and scaffolds

While bioprinters that produce human tissue are a thing here on Earth, the same thing couldn't be said for ISS above, since these machines rely on gravity and scaffolds to bring cartilage cells together.

In a First, Russian Cosmonaut Performs Tissue Engineering in Space
Source: IEEE Spectrum/YouTube

In order to overcome this obstacle, Oleg Kononenko used a novel "scaffold-free" tissue engineering approach, developed by Moscow firm 3D Bioprinting Solutions, that uses magnetic fields as a replacement for gravity, inside a bespoke assembly machine.

In a First, Russian Cosmonaut Performs Tissue Engineering in Space
Source: IEEE Spectrum/YouTube

The magnetism enabled the researchers to counteract with the effect of microgravity and acceleration which in turn made cartilage cells to be held in place. 

In a First, Russian Cosmonaut Performs Tissue Engineering in Space
Source: IEEE Spectrum/YouTube

Magnetic levitational bioassembly sews cells together

Utkan Demirci, co-director of the Canary Center for Cancer Early Detection at the Stanford University School of Medicine, is the man behind the "magnetic levitational bioassembly" approach that can "sew cells together" into tissue using a machine that creates a magnetic field. This way, cells don't need scaffolds to build tissue.

The inventor said, "People have been doing biological experiments and culturing cells in space, but being able to actually assemble these building blocks into more complex structures using a biomanufacturing tool – that's a first."

Practices both in deep space and Earth

This new technique might also enable advances in space regenerative medicine that could be used in long-distance space travels where astronauts need to be self-reliant since they might be away from Earth for long durations. So this is great news if you ever need to undergo surgery on Mars or beyond. 

Moreover, this could have even more practices on Earth too. On a mail to Space, Demirci wrote, "I think these types of… studies in space might lead to interesting discoveries in cancer biology and its co-infections such as HIV or COVID-19."

The experiment was performed in the Russian segment of the ISS during Expedition 58/59 with the researchers who developed the system on Earth publishing the results on July 15 in the journal Science Advances

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