NASA's Hi-Tech Gauze Could Heal Wounded Mars Astronauts

A novel polymer technology developed in a NASA lab could have a profound impact on a variety of wound treatments here on Earth -- and, when we get there, on Mars.

Imagine that NASA's Journey to Mars is approved, and you are an astronaut on the Red Planet in the 2030s. Or that you're on the first SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) commute. During a routine activity on the Martian surface -- say, drilling out rock samples, as you see here -- you lose your balance and fall, cutting your leg pretty badly.

Obviously the crew would have medical training to assist, but in the interest of survival -- and the money it cost to get you there! -- it would be great if some technology was available to help you heal faster so you can get back to work.

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One possibility could be electric gauze. NASA is working on the new technology and early results are showing promise for athletes on Earth. As for our future Mars astronauts, in different gravities blood behavior can change, so there's no firm word yet on if this will work on other planets.

"What we have here is a technology that can have a large impact on wound healing of all sorts," said Emilie "Mia" Siochi, a senior materials scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center, in a new video released by the agency:

click to play video

"What's unique about this material is that it's electroactive -- meaning that if you warm it up, if you push on it, if you apply any load on it, even if you just blow on it -- it actually generates voltage," Siochi added. And yes, body temperature is enough to activate it, helping to bond wounds.

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NASA created a process to apply voltage as the polymer is ejected from a syringe. This creates a fiber. If the fibers are aligned correctly, cells on a wound use it as a scaffold, helping the wound to heal faster, early research shows. One easy way of aligning them would be to put them in a gauze or bandage, which also protects the wound to reduce infection, Siochi said.

"The new apparatus provides a simple and inexpensive means of producing fibers and mats of controlled fiber diameter, porosity, and thickness," NASA wrote in a statement.

You can read more about the technology at the NASA Technology Transfer website.

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