“I love the fact that all these new advances are coming from the state of Nebraska and specifically from Omaha.”

What Astronauts Do When Injured on the International Space Station

Perhaps it is the exposure, isolation, or other factors living in the darkness of space, but astronauts are highly susceptible to injury and infection. Contrary to Earth’s environment, astronauts living in zero-gravity must travel throughout their quarters using their hands instead of feet, leading to more frequent injuries. Technology is seeking to help heal those injuries through Copper 3D, creating custom printed prosthetics.

Now partnering with the University of Nebraska and NASA, Daniel Martinez Penera, Physical Therapist and MBA, Jorge Zuniga, PhD, Director of Biomechanical Research at the University of Nebraska Omaha, and their development team of engineers, doctors and physical therapists are working in tandem to create devices for astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Zuniga explained, “if you don’t have material that’s anti-bacterial, something that you can manufacture in space,” it is difficult for astronauts to recover long-term.

Through the NASA Nebraska Space Grant, Zuniga and Martinez seek to create a material that will withstand the test of time as well as using an active material that helps prevent germs.

During his studies with Claudio Soto, MD, “we realized that more than 40 percent of amputees suffer some type of dermic disorder due to the use of their prostheses. This phenomenon is also observed in non-amputee patients who use orthoses,” explained Martinez, most likely because of the irritation and infections that prosthetics can cause.

In fact, said Martinez, “according to some studies, about 50% of all Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI’s) worldwide are due to the bacterial burden of medical devices that are difficult to maintain clean and sterilized.”

For the brain to heal properly, it is essential to provide recent amputees with their prosthetics as soon as possible to achieve the best results. Zuniga has seen many veterans struggle with rehabilitation because they receive their prosthetics too late and cannot integrate them into their daily routine. He explained, “you’ve got to give these people, once they have an amputation, a prosthesis within seven days or a week, otherwise their brain will adapt and they will not use the prosthesis, it will be more likely to reject it.” In fact, a DEKA, a $100,000 device that is provided by the military (and is the most advanced in the world), often goes unused by up to 58% of the people who receive it! This, explained Zuniga, is because they take so long to manufacture, and is therefore not used enough in time to be successful.

However, with the help of 3D printing, the future of prosthetics is looking up. Using a compound called polyacid plastic, or ‘PLA,’ “we can manufacture any medical device that they need,” said Zuniga. To do so, they simply take photos of the patient, use that image to generate a prosthesis, and can even preview what it will look like before it is printed. This way, a child going through an amputation can even be involved in the design, shape and color of their device.

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By partnering on a global scale, Zuniga in Nebraska and Martinez in Chile, can create their materials out of readily available raw materials such as copper and corn.

Zuniga enthusiastically said, “I love the fact that all these new advances are coming from the state of Nebraska and specifically from Omaha…

The fact that we’re making all these new inventions, materials that are going to help veterans, military personnel, and astronauts. I think it’s a big deal, not only for us but for all people in Nebraska.”

For more information on this exciting partnership, visit www.copper3d.com.


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