Posted in | 3D Printing

New 3D Printing Technology Promises Quicker Implantation of Medical Devices

The University of Florida has recently brought about a new advancement in 3D printing technology that proves to be beneficial for millions of people, who have or need medical devices implanted, every year.

The new technology promises significantly rapid implantation of devices that are more comfortable, less expensive, more flexible and stronger when compared to anything that is currently available.

(PHOTOGRAPHER: CHRISTOPHER O'BRYAN)

Researchers recently published a paper, in the journal Science Advances, in which they explain the process they developed for using 3D printing and soft silicone in order to manufacture items used by millions of people. These items include meshes, slings, soft catheters, balloons, implantable bands and ports for draining bodily fluids.

These devices are currently molded and it could take days or weeks to produce parts which are customized according to the requirements of every single patient. This time is cut to hours by the 3D printing method, thus saving lives. It should also be noted it is not possible to just use a single step to mold extremely complex and small devices, such as drainage tubes made up of pressure-sensitive valves,

However, they can be printed with the new method developed by the UF team.

Silicone is 3D printed into the micro-organogel support material. The printing nozzle follows a predefined trajectory, depositing liquid silicone in its wake. The liquid silicone is supported by the micro-organgel material during this printing process.

Our new material provides support for the liquid silicone as it is 3D printing, allowing us create very complex structures and even encapsulated parts out of silicone elastomer.

Christopher O'Bryan, Doctoral Student, University of Florida, Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering

This new advancement makes room for the development of new therapeutic devices capable of encapsulating and controlling the release of small molecules or drugs for guiding tissue regeneration or supporting diseased organs such as the pancreas or prostate.

The cost savings could also be significant.

The public is more sensitive to the high costs of medical care than ever before. Almost monthly we see major media and public outcry against high health care costs, wasteful spending in hospitals, exorbitant pharmaceutical costs. Everybody agrees on the need to reduce costs in medicine.

Tommy Angelini, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace

The new method was the outcome of a project that Angelini and his team have been dealing with for quite a few years: printable tissues and organs. To that end, two years ago the team made a major discovery when it developed an innovative way to manufacture soft materials using 3D printing and microscopic hydrogel particles as a medium.

The problem was literally a case of trying to mix water and oil, as the earlier granular gel materials were water-based, and were thus incompatible with oily “inks” like silicone.

The team thus came up with an oily version of the microgels to solve this problem.

“Once we started printing oily silicone inks into the oily microgel materials, the printed parts held their shapes,” Angelini said, “We were able to achieve really excellent 3D printed silicone parts – the best I’ve seen.”

Water is pumped from one reservoir to another using a 3D printed silicone valve. The silicone valve contains two encapsulated ball valves that allow water to be pumped through the valve by squeezing the lower chamber. The silicone valve demonstrates the ability of our 3D printing method to create multiple encapsulated components in a single part -- something that cannot be done with a traditional 3D printing approach.

Manufacturing tissues and organs continues to be primary goal, but one that likely is many years away from reality.

This indeed is not so with the medical implants.

The reality is that we are probably decades away from the widespread implanting of 3D printed tissues and organs into patients. By contrast, inanimate medical devices are already in widespread use for implantation. Unlike the long wait we have ahead of us for other 3D bioprinting technolgies to be developed, silicone devices can be put into widespread use without technologically limited delay.

Tommy Angelini, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace

Tapomoy Bhattacharjee, Samuel Hart, Christopher P. Kabb, Kyle D. Schulze, Indrasena Chilakala, Brent S. Sumerlin and Greg Sawyer were the other members of the team.

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