NASA Troubleshooting Helps Solve a Medical Pain Point

Author: Scott Parazynski, MD and Strive Products Founder

Over the course of a rather unusual career, I’ve had the great privilege to serve as a NASA astronaut, a physician, an explorer, an inventor, a pilot, and now, an entrepreneur. One of my latest inventions came about in the way that many do, by identifying the need for an effective product, and discovering that nothing satisfactory existed on the market. In the aftermath of knee surgery, I desperately needed something to address my pain and swelling, while still allowing me to hobble about my house during recovery.

During my 17 years at NASA, I participated in five Space Shuttle missions and had the opportunity to venture outside my spacecraft on seven epic spacewalks. After leaving the space agency, my adventurous spirit even took me to the summit of Mount Everest. It’s difficult for me to put into words the euphoria I felt when standing on top of the world. For me, it took two full seasons and four months at extreme altitude to succeed. I had ruptured a disc in my lower back on my first summit bid in May 2008. Returning the following spring, I was finally able to attain the lofty summit. I think because of the “delayed gratification” and pain involved with my time on Everest, I cherish those 30 minutes on the roof of the world almost as much as my first shuttle launch, and there were plenty of similarities (and differences) between the extreme pursuits. I could clearly see the curvature of Earth from the summit, and I managed to see the equivalent of an “orbital sunrise” from the summit as well.

These extraordinary life experiences had taken their physical toll. In 2014, I found myself having to undergo knee arthroscopy. While recovering, I became incredibly frustrated by the lack of effective “hot & cold” products on the market, both administered in the hospital and available at my local drug store. No products adequately conformed to my basketball-sized knee, facilitated my mobility during recovery, and held the right temperature for the appropriate amount of time, partially due to poor thermal transfer, limited surface area coverage and unwanted condensation.

During my healing process, I had a lot of time to think about what would work better. Leveraging my NASA problem-solving experiences as well as a history of working on the Space Shuttle thermal protection system, I was able to sketch out a next generation hot & cold therapy solution. I researched novel fill materials that might give the performance I was after, and made several prototypes that seemed to do the trick. Then I searched for a way to mature my conceptual solution into a scalable product. Fortunately, a colleague of mine who knew what I was trying to accomplish put me in touch with The Innovation Institute’s Innovation Lab in Southern California. It was there where my product idea was plugged into a rigorous evaluation and iterative prototyping framework that resulted in a family of consumer medical products, called Strive, that are available today on Amazon.

My Conformal Thermal Pack combines a proprietary shape, construction and fill chemistry, and delivers optimal therapeutic temperature for the appropriate amount of time. What I especially like about our final product is that it’s pliable whether cold or hot. It can be stored in the freezer, ready for immediate use when needed to relieve pain of injured joints, or quickly microwaved for warm therapy.

We’ve created larger Strive packs that optimally conform to the knee and shoulder. And we also designed smaller ones that will conform to the wrist or ankle. You get just the right cold or hot therapeutic range, and it stays that way for the appropriate time needed to relieve pain and promote healing, while avoiding thermal injury possible with other products.

The demand for hot and cold therapy packs is strong, and I’m glad we can now offer something that I think patients will be especially happy with. Future Market Insights’ analysts say the demand is driven largely by an aging population and an increase in the number of individuals leading active lifestyles. Plus, the increasing demand for non-surgical and non-pharmacologic pain and injury management solutions makes this therapy a safer and more effective alternative.

As CEO of my own tech start-up, Fluidity Technologies, focused on robotic controls for anything that moves in physical or virtual space, we have to think creatively every day in order to succeed. Fluidity recently introduced an innovative drone controller that will revolutionize drone flying, and perhaps one day even surgical robotics. In patient care, an innovative mindset is also essential to survive and thrive. I’m thrilled to have partnered with The Innovation Institute’s Innovation Lab in order to now bring you Strive!

Author: Scott Parazynski, MD

Chief Executive Officer at Fluidity Technologies, Inc. & Author of "The Sky Below"

About Scott Parazynski, MD

Dr. Scott Parazynski, a graduate of Stanford University and Stanford Medical School, went on to train at Harvard and in Denver in preparation for a career in emergency medicine and trauma. In 1992 he was selected to join NASA’s Astronaut Corps and eventually flew 5 Space Shuttle Missions and conducted 7 spacewalks (EVAs). He was inducted into the US Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2016. In his 17 years as an Astronaut, he served in numerous senior leadership roles, including EVA Branch Chief and the Lead Astronaut for Space Shuttle Thermal Protection System Inspection & Repair (in the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy). Mission highlights include a global ozone mapping mission on STS-66; leading the first joint US-Russian spacewalk during STS-86 while docked to the Russian space station Mir; serving as Senator John Glenn’s crewmate and “personal physician” during STS-95; and conducting EVA assembly of the Canadian-built space station arm during STS-100. In October 2007, Scott led the spacewalking team on STS-120, during which he performed 4 EVAs. The final EVA is regarded by many as one of the most challenging and dangerous ever performed. The tremendous coordinated effort in orbit and on the ground by Mission Control has been likened to the Space Shuttle and Space Station era's "Apollo 13 moment."

He has numerous publications in the field of space physiology with particular expertise in human adaptation to stressful environments. His best-selling memoir, The Sky Below, was published in August 2017.

Scott founded Fluidity Technologies Inc. in 2016, with the mission of simplifying and improving motion in an increasingly complex world. In Fall 2018, Fluidity Technologies introduced the FT Aviator, its first patented drone controller designed to dramatically increase the precision of drone flight, while tremendously simplifying it.

This article is part of LinkedIn's Hard Cases series, where healthcare professionals share the toughest challenges they've faced in their careers. You can read more about it here and follow along using hashtag #HardCases.No alt text provided for this image


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