NASA has great challenges in the coming years for the long-term space missions that will put astronauts on Mars in the 2030’s. Some of these challenges are related to the limited space of the shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS), the need to produce objects on demand and optimize the use of materials only under strictly necessary situations.
To these challenges are added other problems that are currently under study, such as the Immune System Dysregulation that occurs in long-term space missions and leaves astronauts very prone to get infections of all kinds.
Recent evidence from spaceflight experiments also suggests alterations in microbial characteristics, including virulence, in organisms grown during flight. In combination with potential host susceptibility due to dysfunction in the immune system, infectious disease risk may be significantly greater in the spaceflight environment than in normal workplace settings.
Antimicrobial 3D printing
All these factors and challenges undoubtedly lead us to a very powerful concept that is already being studied by NASA; antimicrobial 3D printing.
Daniel Martinez, director of innovation and CMO of Copper3D, the company behind this technology says, “Basically, our idea is to introduce to the 3D printing industry the concept of active materials, that is, materials that are no longer inert and only support structures but now they are active components that play a specific role and adds great value to the final 3D printed object, in this case the attribute is that these objects are completely antimicrobial.”
This technology, based on a patented additive with copper nanostructures and other carriers/controller elements, can have a very positive impact on the challenges faced by NASA with long-term space missions and this specific problem with the Immune System Dysregulation, Martinez note.
“Imagine the impact that this new generation of 3D printed objects can have on the early treatment of complex wounds, on avoiding infections of all kinds, or a whole new generation active/antimicrobial medical devices,” Martinez says.
About the Immune System Dysregulation, Dr. Claudio Soto, medical director of Copper3D, says, “It is an entity that is recently being studied and that could put in risk the long-term space missions, for example those that are expected to be made in the future on Mars. What is known so far is that there could be a sum of factors behind this problem such as radiation, multi-resistant microbes, stress, microgravity, altered sleep cycles and isolation. To these factors we can add others, for example studies have demonstrated that the methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus strain shows enhanced antibiotic resistance in microgravity-analogue conditions suggesting potential alterations in antibiotic efficacy during spaceflights. Thus, there is a critical need for preventive countermeasures to mitigate microbial risks during space flight missions.”
3D printing in the ISS, what comes next?
“NASA Nebraska Space Grant office provided funding to examine the development, validation, and mechanically characterization of antimicrobial 3D printed medical devices for astronauts,” says Dr. Jorge Zuniga, researcher from the Department of Biomechanics of the University of Nebraska at Omaha,” The objective is to test the antimicrobial properties of this material in the ISS.”
Andrés Acuña, CEO of Copper3D adds, “For us all this has been an exciting journey, full of learning and constantly discovering new uses for our material. This new research collaboration with NASA will help us to validate this concept in very extreme conditions, which also leads us to think that this new type of materials can also be very useful to solve the great challenges and problems that we face here on earth in several industries such as healthcare, animal health, livestock farming, toys, moms and babies appliances, among others. This is just beginning, and we know that it will be a huge revolution in the way we understand manufacturing and the nature of materials.”