For the millions of people every year who have or need medical devices implanted, a new advancement in 3D printing technology developed at the University of Florida promises significantly quicker implantation of devices that are stronger, less expensive, more flexible, and more comfortable than anything currently available.
Researchers have developed a process for using 3D printing and soft silicone to manufacture items that millions of patients use: ports for draining bodily fluids, implantable bands, balloons, soft catheters, slings, and meshes.
Currently, such devices are molded, which can take days or weeks to create customized parts designed to fit an individual patient. The 3D printing method cuts that time to hours, potentially saving lives. What's more, extremely small and complex devices, such as drainage tubes containing pressure-sensitive valves, simply cannot be molded in one step. With the UF team's new method, however, they can be printed.
"Our new material provides support for the liquid silicone as it’s 3D printing, allowing us [to] create very complex structures and even encapsulated parts out of silicone elastomer," said Christopher O'Bryan, a mechanical and aerospace engineering doctoral student in UF's Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering.
It also could pave the way for new therapeutic devices that encapsulate and control the release of drugs or small molecules for guiding tissue regeneration or assisting diseased organs such as the pancreas or prostate.
The cost savings could be significant as well.
"The public is more sensitive to the high costs of medical care than ever before," said team member Tommy Angelini, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace. "Everybody agrees on the need to reduce costs in medicine."
The new method was born out of a project Angelini and his team have been working on for several years: printable organs and tissues. To that end, the team made a significant discovery two years ago when it created a revolutionary way to manufacture soft materials using 3D printing and microscopic hydrogel particles as a medium.`