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3D-Printed Medical Supplies In Space Now Possible

First Posted: Jan 10, 2017 03:10 AM EST
3D-Printed Prosthetic Arm Developed In Japan
A potential user tenses his muscles to open the pinch mechanism on this 3D printed prosthetic arm. (Image for representation only.)
(Photo : Trevor Williams/Getty Images)

Most people could only dream of actually going into space. However, unlike what a lot of movies portray, life above the atmosphere is not always easy. For instance, if an astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) gets into a minor accident and would need a medical tool in hand, they will have to wait for a resupply mission if they do not already have what they need. This could take months.

However, CTV News recently reported that a groundbreaking concept was devised by a doctor in Toronto, Julielynn Wong, who founded a company called 3D4MD. The company uses 3D printing and low-cost technologies to supply remote locations -- including space -- with healthcare supplies. As an explanation to how the process works, Wong used an example of an astronaut injuring his hand while on board the ISS.

According to the company's website, they crowdsource and create cost-optimized printable designs of medical resources to be able to treat ill or injured astronauts on site during long space missions. It also stated that they are to print the first 3D medical tools on board the ISS.

Wong explained, "We could take a laser scan stored from the fitting process for space suit gloves, use free software to create a digital model of a custom-fitted finger splint, uplink that digital file to the space station and 3D print it in space."  

Toronto-based Wong noted that designing items for the ISS is somewhat similar to designing them for remote communities. By using cell phones to scan patients and with the help of solar-powered 3D printers, healthcare workers could create their own medical supplies. Meaning that this saves the government and NASA time and money, and it could also benefit those who live in rural areas that do not have access to medical care.

Wong also stated that the company is currently in the midst of creating a digital library similar to that of iTunes, except that, of course, instead of songs, users could select and download crowdsourced 3D printable files to make lower-cost and personalized medical supplies.

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