NASA 3D Bioprinting Cancer Cells in Microgravity in Search of a Cure

  • 10 July 2017
  • Cas Proffitt

Image credit Nano3D Biosciences

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimate of nearly 1.7 million cancer cases will be diagnosed in the US alone in 2017. With many of us having family or friends battling this vicious ailment, new hope could come as NASA takes on cancer research.

Astronauts going to Mars may have a nearly doubled risk of developing cancer due to space radiation from which the Earth’s magnetic field protects us as long as we’re terrestrially bound.

While NASA is looking to various methods for radiation shielding, including surprisingly effective human waste, they have also turned their research toward cancer itself and treatments for this potentially fatal disease.

In their new project called Magnetic 3D Cell Culturing Investigation, NASA will be growing in vitro cancer cells aboard the ISS, because the space environment provides benefits over terrestrial experiments.

Using 3D bioprinting and magnets, NASA intends to create printed, cancerous lung cells in microgravity which allows the cells to retain a three-dimensional form, whereas experiments on Earth create 2-D cells.

Creating the cancer cells in 3D is important for finding a cure because cell shape and size can have an impact on the efficacy of treatments. By creating the cells in a more true-to-life form as they would be found in the body, more effective research surrounding potential cures can be carried out on the International Space Station.

Since microgravity poses its own issues, NASA will be using a “cell levitation technology” developed by Nano3D Bioscience which uses magnetic bioparticles attached to the cells for manipulation of the cells using external magnets in order to facilitate 3D growth by only introducing materials, such as gold, that are unlikely to interfere with research because of their biocompatibility.

By developing cancer cells that can grow in ways that more closely mimic what occurs within the human body, NASA hopes to gain better insight to create new, more effective treatments than what is currently on the market.

The space agency’s research into bioprinting 3D cancer cells could pose significant benefits to their research into immune system activation as a cancer treatment. The most significant hurdle to their research into antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) has been the inability to grow 3D cells on Earth, and the 2D cells created in terrestrial labs have negatively impacted researchers abilities for testing. According to SpaceRef, this new form of cancer therapy could combine a proven cancer drug, Azonafide, with the body’s own immunological response to target specific cancer cells while leaving healthy tissues in tact.


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About Cas Proffitt

Cas is a B2B Content Marketer and Brand Consultant who specializes in disruptive technology. She covers topics like artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, blockchain, and big data, to name a few. Cas is also co-owner of an esports organization and spends much of her time teaching gamers how to make a living doing what they love while bringing positivity to the gaming community.