NASA awards Copper 3D grant for 3D printing antibacterial medical devices in space

Copper 3D, a US-based Chilean 3D printing materials company, has received another grant from NASA. The money has been awarded to test the properties of antibacterial 3D printing materials for medical devices on the International Space Station (ISS).

The funding was issued by NASA Nebraska Space Grant, one of the 52 space grant consortium in the U.S. Dr. Jorge Zuniga, assistant professor at Department of Biomechanics, University of Nebraska Omaha and contributing researcher for Copper 3D said that the funding is “to examine the development, validation, and mechanically characterization of antimicrobial 3D printed medical devices for astronauts. The objective is to test the antimicrobial properties of this material in the ISS”.

3D printed medical devices by Copper 3D. Image via Copper 3D.
3D printed medical devices by Copper 3D. Image via Copper 3D.

Antibacterial 3D printing material 

Copper 3D is known for developing 3D printing materials which have antibacterial properties. For example, the company’s PLACTIVE material is a mixture of 1% antibacterial nanoparticles and copper nanoparticles. The PLACTIVE  is FDA registered and has an ISO 9001/2015 certification. Other materials by Copper 3D include Nanoclean and Flex.

Daniel Martinez, Copper3D’s Director of Innovation and CMO, explained, “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.

He continued, “This new technology, based on a patented additive with copper nanostructures and other carriers/controller elements, can have a very positive impact on the new challenges faced by NASA facing the long-term space missions […]

“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 in a whole new generation active/antimicrobial medical devices”.

An antibacterial 3D printing filament PLACTIVE. Photo by Copper3D.
An antibacterial 3D printing filament PLACTIVE. Photo by Copper3D.

Making space habitable

On long term space missions, there is a significant risk of astronauts developing health issues due to extreme atmospheric conditions. In 2000, the European Space Agency (ESA) sponsored the HUMEX study, a detailed report on safety and health concerns during long term space missions. This study is a guide for future research for ESA and other space agencies.

The recent grant awarded to Copper 3D will address the problem of dysfunction of the immune system (also called Immune System Dysregulation) during long space missions on the ISS.

Medical Director of Copper3D, Dr. Claudio Soto, explained, “[Immune System Dysregulation] 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.”

He continued, “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”.

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Featured image shows medical devices made by Copper 3D. Image via Copper 3D.