3D PRINTING THE FIRST MEDICAL SUPPLIES ON THE SPACE STATION

Credit: NASA

Astronauts can’t take everything they need with them on a long space mission.  Now they can use Star Trek Replicators to make personalized medical supplies on demand in space!

On Jan. 11, the first medical supplies were 3D printed off Earth.  Hand injuries are common medical problems for astronauts. But it wasn’t possible to make custom-fitted splints for astronauts during a space mission until now.  

3D4MD has shown that you can 3D print a custom mallet finger splint for an astronaut by using (1) a laser hand scan saved from the fitting process for spacesuit gloves, (2) free software, and (3) a solar-powered 3D printer.  

The 3D4MD team designed one splint with a star pattern to highlight that it was made amongst the stars.  Both splint models were designed to be worn without a velcro strap in case this item is not readily available during a space mission or on Earth.  

Mallet finger injuries are common hand injuries on Earth.  Improperly treated mallet finger injuries can lead to permanent crippling hand deformities.  Research indicates that the best way to treat mallet finger injuries is to use custom-fitted, handmade splints.  Sadly, there is a global shortage of skilled healthcare workers who can make these custom-fitted splints, especially in rural communities.  

Our global community of Medical Makers is developing a way to use cellphones to scan patients and 3D print custom mallet splints on-site using recycled plastic and solar-powered 3D printers.  This could save time and money and improve health outcomes for the 45% of the world’s population who live in rural areas and who lack access to healthcare.  

Canada, which celebrates its 150th anniversary of Confederation this year, has a long-standing record of achievement in aerospace medicine and universal healthcare.  3D4MD’s innovative project shows how advancing space medicine can also enhance healthcare here on Earth, at home and abroad.  No government grants -- meaning no Canadian taxpayer dollars -- were used to support this groundbreaking project.  This project was 100% funded by revenue from keynote speeches, workshops, and 3D printing consulting services provided by 3D4MD.

3D4MD thanks our incredible team members; Scott Summit, Teddy Shropshire, Marius Kintel, Jerry Ennett, Erik Lloyd, Chevis Dilbert, Mohammed Zoubi, Anush Agarwal, Mitchell Acton plus Made In Space's Andrew Rush, Aaron Kemmer, Jason Dunn, Hasti Afsarifard, Brad Kohlenberg, Matthew Napoli, and Dylan Tepper, for their amazing contributions and support of this project.  

3D4MD MISSION BADGE

3D4MD is scheduled to uplink and 3D print medical tools onboard the International Space Station using the Additive Manufacturing Facility.  3D4MD's Dr. Julielynn Wong created a mission badge for this project and two summer interns, Chevis Dilbert and Jerry Ennett, helped digitally sketch the design elements.  

The red planet depicts Mars. The Earth symbolizes global health.  The star pattern above the 3D4MD logo is the Southern hemisphere constellation “Sculptor” because 3D printing is a form of digital sculpture.  The 3D4MD logo merges with the heart's electrical signal waveform at both ends, which signifies that health and wellness are the goals of this project. The two stars in the outer border represent solar energy which is used to power 3D printers in space and on Earth. The red chevron is NASA’s symbol for aeronautics because 3D4MD plans to use drones to re-supply 3D printers in remote medical facilities.  The star pattern below the 3D4MD logo is the Zodiac constellation "Taurus" to recognize the graphic design skills of Jerry Ennett, founder of Taurus 3D.

This embroidered mission patch is awarded to our volunteers, interns, and collaborators as a special memento in appreciation of their support.

 

SOLAR-POWERED SUITCASE 3D PRINTERS

Over one billion people lack access to electricity.  In many remote areas, simple medical items are expensive and can take weeks or months to arrive in the hands of medical staff.  3D4MD's Dr. Julielynn Wong has designed and tested a solar-powered, plug-and-play, ultra-portable 3D printing system to manufacture a range of hygienic, effective, and low-cost medical supplies at the point of use.  This system fits inside a carry-on suitcase to allow safer handling of delicate parts and to save money by avoiding checked baggage fees.  Might a doctor's bag be a 3D printer in the future?

I've always loved science fiction and one thing that's captured my imagination is this idea of a replicator - a machine that can create anything. Today, these machines are real.  When I started using 3D printers, I realized that this technology could be applied in so many ways to help others.  My father carried a doctor's bag containing medical equipment when he made house calls. I began to imagine how doctors could use portable 3D printers to make medical supplies for patients during visits.  

Last December, I brought my 3D printer with me in a carry-on suitcase to manufacture medical supplies at the Mars Desert Research Station.  Since the International Space Station is powered by solar panels, I used solar energy to power my printer to make medical supplies during my simulated Mars mission.  This has never been done before.  

When I returned home, I had my printed medical supplies tested by clinic staff to see if they worked properly.  They did.  These results are now published in the September issue of the Aerospace Medicine Human Performance journal.

This inspired me to design an ultra-portable, plug-and-play, solar-powered 3D printing system that fits inside a carry-on suitcase so healthcare workers visiting remote villages can bring it with them to make medical supplies on site.  And perhaps these workers can leave these 3D printers behind after teaching the local community how to design and print their own solutions.  

Image courtesy of Adrian Bowyer

Some 3D printers can print their own replacement parts.  The local community could print parts to make more 3D printers.   

In designing this system, I used off-the-shelf plug-and-play components because they would be easier to use for minimally trained staff.  I published this work in a medical journal so others could build their own solar-powered suitcase 3D printers.  Contact us for more details.  

Today it's possible to use low-cost 3D printers to make medical supplies locally using solar energy.  Our mission is to use 3D printers to deliver the highest standard of medical care in the most challenging places to those who need it the most.  3D4MD brings technologists, healthcare professionals and patients together to create affordable 3D printable medical solutions to positively impact over one billion lives.  Contact us if you'd like to get involved.