The µFlow Cell of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) is happy to share that it is a subcontractor of Redwire Space NV, which has been awarded a 14 million euro contract to design, develop, and qualify the 3D BioSystem facility for research on the International Space Station (ISS) under a programme of and funded by the Exploration Programme of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Being developed by a consortium of industrial and academic partners, with Redwire Space NV as Prime, the 3D BioSystem Facility will leverage the latest 3D bioprinting technologies to provide a modular, powerful, and unique system to sustain a large number of experiments. The system will include a 3D bioprinter, 3D cell culture units, and an incubator. The 3D BioSystem will be able to print samples in orbit, which can then be further processed there or be returned to ground, or to host and incubate constructs directly uploaded from ground. 

Prof. Wim De Malsche, head of the µFlow Cell, comments: “We will put our expertise in microfluidics at work to design and build dedicated modular plates, on which the samples can be printed or located before the integration in the 3D BioSystem facility, and to be used during the constructs’ incubation for providing the required media and factors supply and gas exchange features depending on the experiment’s needs. Our subcontracting activities have started early 2023 and are expected to take until 2027.”

The ability to bioprint cell constructs will be critical for long-duration spaceflight expeditions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond and for sustainable planetary settlements. The 3D BioSystem Facility can also be an important tool for better understanding cell to cell interactions in thick tissue, creating organoids for drug efficacy and toxicity testing, laying the groundwork for printing vascularized tissue, and, in the future, printing transplantable organ patches for tissue therapy. The system will also help ensure European technological non-dependence and competitiveness, which is crucial to securing space benefits for Earth and expanding the global space economy. Filip Legein, Valorization Manager of the µFlow Cell, concludes: “This project demonstrates well that µFlow Cell can bring microfluidics from idea to product, and we are very proud to contribute to a project that will advance tissue manufacturing capabilities for long-duration spaceflight and improve life on earth.”