Astronauts can’t take everything they need with them on a long space mission. Now they can use 3D printers 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.
Dr. Julielynn Wong, a medical doctor, scientist, and founder of 3D4MD, a social enterprise that makes 3D printable medical supplies, showed 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.