Scientists have successfully cultured liver tissue capable of functioning for 30 days in the laboratory as part of NASA’s Vascular Tissue Challenge.
In 2016, NASA launched this competition to find teams that could “create thick, vascularized human organ tissue in an in vitro environment to advance research and benefit drugs on long-term missions and on Earth,” according to a description of the agency’s challenge. Today (June 9), the agency announced not one, but two winners of the challenge.
The two teams, both made up of researchers from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) in North Carolina, won first and second place in the competition with two different approaches to creating laboratory-grown human liver tissue.
“I can not exaggerate what an impressive feat this is. When NASA launched this challenge in 201
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The winning teams used both 3D printing technologies to create their tissues. As dictated by the challenge rules, the teams had to keep their tissues “alive” for 30-day trials. But in order to construct tissue and make it “survive,” teams had to figure out how to move nutrients and oxygen through their creation, and how to remove waste. This process, known as perfusion, is performed by blood vessels in organic, living tissue, but this is an extremely difficult thing to replicate artificially.
Using different materials and different 3D-printed designs, the two teams created different similar frames for their tissues, which included channels through which oxygen and nutrients could flow. The teams were able to get nutrients to flow through their artificial blood vessels without leaking.
The team that won first place, called Team Winston, is the first team to complete its experiment with the constructed tissue under the challenge rules and will receive $ 300,000 and the opportunity to advance this work aboard the International Space Station, according to the statement. The second-place team, called WFIRM, receives $ 100,000.
But the challenge is not over yet. While these two competitors have taken home the top two prizes, two other teams continue to work towards third place, which also receives a $ 100,000 prize.
3D printing of human tissues in space
How this technology could one day be used for healthcare for astronauts living in destinations such as the moon and Mars has not yet been seen, but the researchers behind these projects recognize the many challenges that this application presents.
“There will be zero gravity … space radiation, and we do not know how these tissues or cells in the tissue will behave. So there are so many unanswered questions,” said James Yoo, a professor at WFIRM who is part of the team. Winston, told Space.com during a June 9 media teleconference. He added: “We are very optimistic that the tissue structures are in space and we hope that they will behave in the same way. [to how they behave on Earth]. “
Although these future applications of tissue engineering have yet to be seen, scientists can significantly advance our understanding of how it can work by studying these structures in space, such as aboard the space station.
“The potential to study this technology further in space is really exciting,” said Robyn Gatens, director of the International Space Station at NASA headquarters, about tissue engineering during teleconversion. “One of the benefits of this space exploration challenge is the creation of organ analogues that we could use to study the environmental effects of deep space such as radiation and microgravity.”
“As we prepare to go to the moon with the Artemis program and a day on Mars, we will need to develop strategies to minimize damage to astronauts’ healthy cells and mitigate the negative effects … space will have on humans for long time-duration tasks, “said Gatens, adding that performing such tests with organ analogues can help” ensure that we gain the knowledge to keep astronauts healthy as they travel further into space. “
NASA’s vascular tissue challenge is led by the agency’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and is part of Centennial Challenges, a challenges, awards and crowdsourcing program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, according to the statement. For this competition, NASA partnered with the nonprofit organization New Organ Alliance, which focuses on the research and development of regenerative medicine and which also puts together its nine-person panel of judges.
Email Chelsea Gohd at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.