An artificial bone has been developed by the European Space Agency to allow astronauts access to “spare parts” that may be needed for long-duration space missions.
This bone sample is part of a selection of articles on the 99 Objects from the ESA ESTEC websitewhich features artifacts the agency has developed over the past 50 years.
The bone was developed using 3D bioprinting technology, with the ESA calling it a “first step” towards “emergency medicine in space”.
In addition to bone, it is possible that this technology could also be used for skin grafts, or even to generate internal organs.
A nutrient-rich “biological ink”, made from the human blood plasma of the astronauts themselves, could be obtained with a gravity of “minus 1 g”.
Severe burns may involve a skin graft using muscle taken from another part of the patient’s body; while this is possible on Earth, it is more difficult in space and there is no guarantee that secondary damage will heal perfectly.
Astronauts in weightlessness often lose bone density, which means injuries such as broken bones can be more common while in orbit or while exploring planets like Mars. This has led to a lot of research into preventative measures astronauts can take
In 2020, it was suggested that the microbes in astronauts’ stomachs could be manipulated using prebiotics and that probiotics could protect them, along with a fiber diet to kick-start their metabolism. Research from last month also suggests that ‘space lettuce’ may maintain bone density during long journeys.
“Right now, astronauts on the International Space Station have certain exercise programs to try to maintain their bone mass,” said graduate student Kevin Yates who is leading the work, “but they’re generally not on the Station. international space for more than six months. Trips to Mars would take 10 months, then astronauts would have to spend a year on the Red Planet before returning home.
ESA has been working on this technology for two years now, and has even managed to print objects upside down, but there are big challenges ahead.
“Plasma has a very fluid consistency, which makes it difficult to work with under altered gravitational conditions,” said Nieves Cubo of the University Hospital of the Technical University of Dresden at the time.
“So we developed a modified recipe by adding methylcellulose and alginate to increase the viscosity of the substrate. Astronauts could obtain these substances from plants and algae respectively, a feasible solution for an autonomous space expedition.
It is hoped that developing this technology for astronauts will also speed up its process on Earth, helping people with bone problems heal faster.