Two teams of scientists from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) won first and second place in NASA’s Vascular Tissue Challenge, a prize competition that aims to accelerate tissue engineering innovations.
Both teams used slightly different techniques to 3D-print vascularized liver tissue in the lab, producing gel-like molds, or scaffolds, featuring a network of channels capable of supplying 3D-printed tissue with sufficient oxygen and nutrient levels. Next, the two engineering teams will get the opportunity to test their breakthrough tissue models on the International Space Station.
For the challenge, NASA called on research teams to develop tissue models that were vascularized – meaning that it had blood vessels – were functional and could survive for at least a month. A first-place prize of $300,000 was awarded to Team Winston, while Team WFIRM received the second-place prize of $100,000.
Their experimental setups will be used to study the effects of microgravity on vascularized liver tissue on the space station, and ultimately could be used to produce bigger, more complex tissue models. NASA hopes to continue using challenge competitions to prepare for future space missions, including trips to the moon and Mars.