Currently, under testing as a prototype on the space station, the Bioprint FirstAid uses a solution containing astronauts’ cells to heal injuries.
NASA is testing a handheld bioprinting device aboard the International Space Station that will use an astronaut’s own cells suspended in a fluid to create a band-aid patch in case of an injury during space missions. One of the biggest challenges that come with space exploration, especially long-term missions, is the lack of advanced health care facilities to take care of serious illnesses. There are strict limitations on the kind, and amount, of medical gear that can be carried on a mission.
And then, there are the challenges that come with being suspended in microgravity. Take, for example, CPR, which can suddenly be no longer performed using one’s body weight if another astronaut needs it. In addition, during long-duration flights, such as the planned Artemis mission to put a man on Mars, the risks of severe medical and surgical events go up significantly. Plus, there is always a real scenario where the loss of a crew member’s life cannot be ruled out.
In a bid to overcome some of those health-related challenges, NASA has sent a tool called Bioprint FirstAid Handheld Bioprinter — or Bioprint FirstAid, in short — to the International Space Station. The bioprinting device is shaped like a gun and will use a pre-formulated bio-ink containing a person’s own cells to create a healing tissue patch in case of injuries. Slated to undergo testing until September of 2022, the prototype being tested for operational stability on the ISS currently has a “Research Only” status and doesn’t come fitted with the bio-ink vials containing human cells. “The aim of the portable bioprinter is to cover a wound area on the skin by applying a tissue-forming bio-ink (bio-ink with skin cells) that acts as a patch and accelerates the healing process,” says NASA.
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For now, NASA will be testing how efficient the printing technology is by comparing patch print results when applied over a foil in space and with human cells here on Earth. The device can be a lifesaver for long-term missions due to multiple reasons. NASA says wound healing patterns are altered in space, which means treating more extensive injuries becomes way more complicated than on Earth. For the bioprinting band-aid tool to work, NASA will create the bio-ink stock well in advance before a mission takes off. The bio-ink containing human cells will be extracted from blood and fatty tissue for creating a personalized wound healing patch. Doing so would allow fellow astronauts to administer treatment in case of injuries immediately.
The core purpose of the bio-ink is to accelerate the healing process. And since the cells have been extracted from a person’s own body, there are little to no chances of rejection by an astronaut’s immune system when applied over a wound. NASA calls it “a safe regenerative and personalized therapy.” Another advantage of the Bioprint FirstAid lies in its handheld form factor, which gives astronauts more flexibility regarding a wound’s position or size on an astronaut’s body.
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