Last week, six years after NASA announced its Vascular Tissue Challenge, a competition designed to accelerate research that could someday lead to artificial organs, the agency named two winning teams. The challenge required teams to create thick, vascularized human organ tissue that could survive for 30 days.
Along with advancing the field of regenerative medicine and making it easier to create artificial organs for humans who need transplants, the project could someday help astronauts on future deep-space missions.
The concept of tissue engineering has been around for more than 20 years, says Laura Niklason, a professor of anesthesia and biomedical engineering at Yale, but the growing interest in space-based experimentation is starting to transform the field. “Especially as the world is now looking at private and commercial space travel, the biological impacts of low gravity are going to become more and more important, and this is a great tool for helping to understand that.”
In 2019, astronaut Christina Koch activated the BioFabrication Facility (BFF), which was created by the Greenville, Indiana-based aerospace research company Techshot to print organic tissues in microgravity.
That research project has goals similar to those of NASA’s Vascular Tissue Challenge, says Eugene Boland, Techshot’s chief scientist. Except instead of 3D-printing liver tissue, their aim is to create transplantable cardiac tissue sometime in the next 10 years.