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With a billion dollar industry in its name and taking healthcare leaps ahead, medical implants, which are typically biological tissues coated with biomedical material, are known to improve the quality of lives of many. Additionally, it has been seen that 3D printing has enhanced the design and implantation of some of these devices.

At the University of Florida, Tommy Angelini, Chris O’Bryan and their team, in an effort to push the boundaries further, have developed a more flexible form of the silicone 3D printing method where implants are made more delicate yet stronger, robust, adaptable, and importantly, assured comfort to the user. Some of the soft items that can be printed by this process, as mentioned in the paper, are catheters, drainage tubes with pressure-sensitive valves, ports, slings, meshes and pacemakers, to name just a few. Creating such complex medical tools is usually a time-consuming activity because they need to be sturdy to be molded and customized, as opposed to the new technique which is far quicker.



The New 3D Printing Method - Model & Applications

The procedure involved a novel change to the traditional silicone implant printing by replacing the water-based granular gel with micro-organogel (which comprises of mineral oil) material to help the non-polar, oily silicone set into desired shapes without sagging or collapsing. This consequently also opens up avenues for the printing of multiple components in a single step.

Now, before the chemical gel was introduced to keep the structure firm, the nozzle of the 3D printer liquefied it and converted the silicone ink into a certain configuration. Project lead, Angelini, on successful completion of this biocompatible prototype, mentioned, “We were able to achieve really excellent 3D printed silicone parts — the best I’ve seen.”

The concepts of 3D printing and hydrogel-created soft materials are indeed revolutionary progress in the world of medicine. It could be applied during therapy such as drug control, for tissue regeneration and organ transplant, and so on, and also in the research and development of many more devices related to additive silicone manufacturing. In fact, the same group of scientists took to performing intricate experiments and testing the new printing techniques capacity, wherein a windpipe was reconstructed and in another instance, a “sea anemone” designed. As a part of research contributing to the study, they also printed valves for water pumps that essentially mimicked the idea of 3D printing for devices that could potentially help in drug release to patients.

Until the time bioprinting of body parts becomes a reality, we await with bated breath the release and application of this medical innovation on humans — personalized, high-precision 3D printing. As rightly put by Angelini, “Silicone devices can be put into widespread use without technologically limited delay”, and really, could act, even if temporarily, to provide faster results and less expensive solutions where necessary.

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O’Bryan, C. et al. (2017), ‘Self-assembled micro-organogels for 3D printing silicone structures’, Science Advances, vol. 3, no.5

Meghna's picture

Meghna Rao, MSc

A postgraduate in Bioscience with work experience in research and communications in the fields of science, health and medicine. Her specializations include writing and developing scientific material for websites, blogs, and other print and digital media, content curation and management, and medical proofreading and editing. She also has a fair knowledge in marketing communications and science journalism. Also, Meghna is passionate about yoga, working with non-profits and travel blogging. Read More

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