In space, there's no emergency room.
It's not a pleasant thought: having a medical emergency on board a space station hundreds of miles above the surface of Earth.
But thanks to 3D printing, astronauts could sleep much better at night — or whenever they're scheduled to sleep.
Experts in 3D printing biomass and the field of regenerative medicine got together at a two-day workshop last month at the European Space Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands to discuss how 3D bioprinting — printing biomaterials such as skin tissue or entire organs using a specialized 3D printer — could be used to treat astronauts in space, 3D Printing Industry reports.
All kinds of applications of that technology are being developed right now. The European Space Agency (ESA) has looked at ways to print "skin, bone and body parts" using special "bio-ink."
Long Way Home
Humans are spending more and more time in space, for stretches totalling months or even years at a time. But that also means we'll have to address any health concerns they run into — and find ways to tackle medical emergencies. And that's without getting into journeys that travel far from Earth, like a potential Mars mission.
“Compared to today’s low-Earth-orbiting crews, long distance missions to far away destinations will face very different challenges," says Sandra Podhajsky, scientist leading the ESA's 3D bioprinting project, in an ESA update.
The ESA's latest project, called 3D Printing of Living Tissue for Space Exploration, will work with local universities to come up with ways to take advantage of 3D bioprinting technology for medical treatments in space.
Printing Skin and Bones
3D bioprinting could also revolutionize medical treatments here on Earth — and could do the same in the far reaches of our solar system.
Medical emergencies, especially when they occur millions of miles away from home, will require some creative thinking. 3D printing could be the missing link.
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