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article imageProject aims to grow human organs in space

By Tim Sandle     Jan 22, 2019 in Science
There is a shortage of organs patients worldwide. This has led to developments with lab-grown organs, but these are hampered by various factors. Growing organs in micro-gravity may be the answer.
The organ shortage worldwide means some patients die before a suitable donor is found. According to the World Health Organization, access to organ transplantation varies according to their national situations. Other factors include the cost of health care and the level of technical capacity. The types of organs most commonly donated and transplanted are kidneys, liver and heart.
The situation has led to various projects to grow artificial organs; while these are at various stages of progress, it is hoped to have lab-grown organs suitable for donation before 2023. One example is with Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School who have created pluripotent stem cells which have been used to form tissue resembling that of a developing human heart.
The biggest challenge with lab-grown organs is the need for scaffolds, which are cell-friendly, biodegradable polymers. Issues with scaffolds are one of the primary reasons why the development of substitute organs is progressing slowly.
This challenge has led scientists to consider growing organs in space, under micro-gravity conditions. According to the BBC, space technology company Techshot believes this is possible and is investing heavily in this area. The Techshot BioFabrication Facility is focused on manufacturing human organs and tissues in space, primarily for use by patients on Earth.
Recent research has looked at 3D bioprinted cardiac and vascular cells under micro-gravity. According to NASA, microgravity closely approximates the environment experienced early in cell development, as tissues first form. By operating under these conditions, ongoing research could theoretically provide insights into the materials, biology, and vascularization required for 3D bioprinting organs. The next step is to reproduce the technology on-board the International Space Station (ISS).
According to Rich Boling, VP of Techshot: "Our ultimate goal is to provide a solution to an organ shortage that causes an average of 20 people per day in the US alone to die waiting for an organ transplant... Getting to that point is a journey of a thousand miles, and launching our BioFabrication Facility to the ISS is that first step."
In addition, Techshot is also looking at how biofabrication can help maintain the health of deep space exploration crews by producing food and personalized pharmaceuticals on demand.
More about Organ transplant, International Space Station, Organs, Medical
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