Earlier this week, researchers from Imperial College London announced that they had developed a way to make dialysis more effective for patients with kidney failure—inspired by, of all things, outer space.
Specifically, the researchers, who published their findings in the journal Physics of Fluids, redesigned the Arterio-Venous Fistulae (AFV), a doctor-created connection between a patient’s vein and artery that allows the blood to filter. These pathways can easily become clogged, a phenomenon the researchers attribute to the atypical blood-flow patterns they create. Using a computer program originally created for the aerospace industry, they were able to model blood flow across several different iterations of the AFV.
This is far from the first time space technology has been adapted for earthly healthcare concerns. In 1973, NASA published the first edition of what would become Spinoff, a compilation of some of the inventions that its technology has helped to create. Originally a yearly report presented to Congress, the publication soon went mainstream, shifting to more of a storytelling format as NASA worked to turn Spinoff into a public-education tool.
“It’s the space age become real,” said Daniel Lockney, the manager of NASA’s technology transfer program. “These products and consumer goods enabled by space technology are available to people, and they love to know about it.” The process of what NASA calls “technology transfer” can take a few different forms: In some cases, former employees repurpose their own work; in others, the agency approaches existing companies and offers its technology for industry-specific purposes. Below are just a few of the ways space has made its mark on hospitals, drugstores, and grocery-store shelves.