NASA has awarded first and second place to two teams of scientists from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The teams from the Institute landed first and second place in the NASA Vascular Tissue Challenge. The competition aimed to accelerate tissue engineering to benefit people on Earth and space explorers of the future.
Competing teams from Wake Forest, called Winston and WFIRM, used different approaches to create lab-grown human liver tissue strong enough to survive and function similarly to tissues inside the human body. Each team used a different 3D printing technique to construct a cube-shaped tissue about one centimeter thick that could function for 30 days in the lab.
Team Winston was first to complete the trial under the challenge rules and will receive $300,000. Team Winston also gets the opportunity to advance its research aboard the ISS. Team WFIRM won second place and received a prize of $100,000. NASA notes that two additional teams affiliated with other organizations continuing to fight for third place and the other $100,000 reward.
The research created by the teams will enable the growth and long-term survival of thick three-dimensional tissue for research and therapeutic applications. Eventually, NASA hopes to develop organ bandages and organ replacements. In the near term, the technology the teams invented could accelerate pharmaceutical testing and disease modeling. NASA admits that more advancements are needed to make artificial organs a reality. Nevertheless, the results show the potential for artificial organs developed from the patient’s own cells in the future.
The winning teams 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 the 30-day trial. The two winning teams used different 3D-printed designs and different materials to produce their live tissues.