Redwire Corp. 3D-printed a meniscus on the International Space Station, the first time a human body part was 3D-printed in space using human-derived tissues, the US aerospace company said on Thursday.
(Bloomberg) — Redwire Corp. 3D-printed a meniscus on the International Space Station, the first time a human body part was 3D-printed in space using human-derived tissues, the US aerospace company said on Thursday.
It serves as a vital proof-of-concept for the company as it pursues ways of leveraging the space environment to create human organs and tissues for transplantation.
Redwire is a front runner in the effort to 3D-print human tissues in space, while the European Space Agency is also funding its own effort. Space has also been an attractive environment for creating protein crystals for use in pharmaceutical drugs, and startups like Varda Space Industries Inc. are hoping to leverage microgravity to better improve drug development.
Various companies have pioneered 3D printing human organs and tissues on Earth for years. But when printing in the presence of gravity, bioengineers often must either add chemicals to their creations to keep the tissues firm or print the tissues onto matrices or scaffolding to provide structure. Redwire says it’s easier for viscous materials like tissue to hold their form in space, making them less complicated to construct without chemicals or scaffolding.
“When you turn off gravity, it creates an environment where you can successfully build tissues and organs,” Redwire Chief Growth Officer Mike Gold said in an interview.
Redwire printed the meniscus — a critical cartilage found in the human knee — using human-derived stem cells and collagen in a specialized 3D bioprinter the company launched to the space station in late 2022 aboard a Northrop Grumman Corp. cargo capsule. The company then cultured the meniscus for 14 days in another Redwire facility launched to the space station last year.
The demonstration marks the first time a human body part was 3D-printed in space using human-derived tissues, Redwire said.
The printed meniscus returned to Earth on board a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule early Monday. Since this was a demonstration, Redwire has no plans to transplant the meniscus into an actual knee.
“We’re going to study it, understand the process, and try to build from
this to reproduce the success,” Gold said. “And not only with the meniscus.”
Gold declined to comment on the cost of printing the meniscus. He said the company’s plan is to figure out how to make organs like the meniscus in an affordable way and at greater scale. Redwire chose the meniscus since tears of this tissue are one of the leading causes of orthopedic injury for people in the military.
Redwire recently announced a partnership with Sierra Space Corp. to create drugs on a future commercial space station. Redwire will be launching more bioprinting payloads to the ISS in November on an upcoming SpaceX cargo mission, with plans to 3D-print cardiovascular tissue.
Based in Jacksonville, Florida, Redwire began trading on the New York Stock Exchange in 2021 following a merger with Genesis Park Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company.
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