Any cancer diagnosis is frightening, but pancreatic cancer is especially so. It’s more difficult to treat than other types of cancers, as it spreads rapidly and is rarely detected until it’s in an advanced stage. According to the American Cancer Society, the one-year relative survival rate for pancreatic cancer is 20%, while the five-year rate is a dismal 7%. These low numbers are largely due to the fact that, again, by the time most tumors are detected they’ve already progressed past the point at which they can be surgically removed. Right now, pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States and is expected to surpass breast cancer in 2017.
In light of those dark statistics, however, there’s hope. California-based Microfabrica, a leader in advanced technology, combines 3D printing technology with advanced semiconductor manufacturing processes to design and build solutions on the microscale for various industries including aerospace, electronics, and medicine. When it comes to medical tools, smaller is often better, allowing for surgical procedures to be more precise and less invasive. Microfabrica’s technology allows for the production of tiny, intricate and complex tools with multiple parts in advanced biocompatible materials.
While 3D printing is a critical part of Microfabrica’s process, it’s enhanced by semiconductor manufacturing technology, which enables them to produce precise, micro-scale metal devices in commercial volumes and in one piece, without the need for assembly. Today, the company announced that they will be producing what they say is the world’s first submillimeter biopsy forceps, designed to improve the reliability of tissue biopsies in the gastrointestinal tract – including biopsies of pancreatic cystic lesions, which may or may not be early signs of cancer.
The submillimeter forceps are being developed in collaboration with US Endoscopy, a subsidiary of medical technology giant STERIS. The Ohio-based company describes itself as a “prolific designer and supplier of urgently needed, niche diagnostic, therapeutic, and support accessories used in the GI Endoscopy market,” and their products include micro forceps designed to allow physicians to obtain better tissue samples from the GI tract, leading to better diagnoses and more targeted treatments.
“US Endoscopy’s micro forceps is an incredibly innovative product with multiple applications,” said Eric C. Miller, CEO of Microfabrica and medical device industry veteran. “The micro forceps design takes full advantage of our unique capability to print highly complex geometries with ultra-high precision at the submillimeter scale.”
US Endoscopy’s micro forceps are a little scary-looking with their serrated jaws, but those serrated jaws are what allow doctors to acquire better tissue samples, while a spring sheath lets the device be used in tortuous positions (tortuous = complex and twisty, not to be confused with torturous, so relax). Not much detail has been released about what the partnership between US Endoscopy and Microfabrica will entail, but the combination of US Endoscopy’s design and Microfabrica’s ability to produce micro-scale devices should result in a biopsy tool that’s smaller and even more precise than anything this particular market has seen before. Discuss in the Microfabrica forum at 3DPB.com.