Scientists 3D-print a cube-shaped human liver tissue in a lab using live cells

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Scientists 3D-print a cube-shaped human liver tissue using live cells that could treat future astronauts who will one day live on Mars and the moon

  • American scientists grew human liver tissue in a lab using a 3D-printer
  • The team started by using 3D printing technologies to create gel-like molds
  • This acted as a platform for the cells to form into the liver tissue
  • It allowed the finished product  to maintain sufficient oxygen and nutrient levels
  • NASA hopes this will be used to treat astronauts living on Mars and the moon
  • It could also be used to create human organs for people on Earth 

Space fairing heroes living on the moon and Mars could one day receive transplants with 3D-printed human tissue.

Scientist from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina constructed a cube-shaped tissue capable of functioning for 30 days in the lab.

The breakthrough was part of NASA’s Vascular Tissue Challenge, a competition to create thick, vascularized human organ tissue in an in-vitro environment, and the group won first and second place.

The team created gel-like molds with ‘chambers’ to help cells form into tissue by allowing them to obtain enough oxygen and nutrients to survive an entire month. 

Not only can 3D-printed tissue treat astronauts, but it may also be used in patients on Earth who are waiting for an organ transplant.

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Scientist from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina constructed a cube-shaped tissue capable of functioning for 30 days in the lab

Scientist from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina constructed a cube-shaped tissue capable of functioning for 30 days in the lab

Wake Forest Institute consisted of of two teams, but Team Winston completed its trial first and will receive $300,000. The winners will also be giving the opportunity to advance their research aboard the International Space Station.

The scientists have been working on ways to turn living cells into living human body parts for at least a decade – in 2011 the team grew ears, muscles and jawbones.

The group has come a long way and accepted NASA’s challenge in 2016 to develop human tissue using 3D-printing techniques.

Graça Almeida-Porada, MD, PhD, said in a statement: ‘In the coming years, NASA has planned missions to Mars and to near-Earth asteroids, yet the potential health risks to astronauts from exposure to the unique conditions present in deep space are still not well defined.

The Wake Forest scientists used 3D printing technologies to create gel-like molds, or scaffolds, with a network of channels designed to maintain sufficient oxygen and nutrient levels to keep the constructed tissues alive for their 30-day

The Wake Forest scientists used 3D printing technologies to create gel-like molds, or scaffolds, with a network of channels designed to maintain sufficient oxygen and nutrient levels to keep the constructed tissues alive for their 30-day

‘This research will hopefully help us gain understanding of how to prevent or lessen these negative effects.’

The WFIRM scientists used 3D printing technologies to create gel-like molds, or scaffolds, with a network of channels designed to maintain sufficient oxygen and nutrient levels to keep the constructed tissues alive for 30 days.

Winston and WFIRM used different 3D-printed designs and different materials to produce live tissues that harbored cell types found in human livers.

Lynn Harper, challenge administrator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, said: ‘The value of an artificial tissue depends entirely on how well it mimics what happens in the body.

‘The requirements are precise and vary from organ to organ, making the task extremely exacting and complex. The research resulting from this NASA challenge represents a benchmark, a well-documented foundation to build the next advance upon.’

If the innovation does go to the ISS, astronauts can study how radiation exposure affects the human body, document organ function in microgravity and develop strategies to minimize damage to healthy cells while living or working in space. 

When the tissue is grown in space, this could facilitate the creation of even larger and more complex engineered tissues that look and function more like those in the human body, compared to tissues constructed on Earth. 

If the research makes it to the station, the combination of improved vasculature and microgravity could yield the next set of advances for tissue engineering on Earth and biomanufacturing in space.

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