A major advance in the medical industry has been the 3D printing of silicone, a fairly recent development. The first industrial silicone 3D printer was debuted last year, though a few companies had been using the technology before that to create 3D printed implants. 3D printed silicone has recently begun to expand beyond prostheses and breast implants, however, to encompass a whole range of medical implants, and researchers at the University of Florida recently revealed a new 3D printing method that they have developed to create a wide variety of silicone implants.
As the researchers explain in a newly published paper, they’ve developed a method to 3D print soft implants such as bands, balloons, catheters, slings, meshes, and ports for draining bodily fluids. Currently, devices such as these are molded, which can take days or even weeks to complete, especially when customizing them for individual patients. With 3D printing, they can be created within hours – and for much less cost.
“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,” said Christopher O’Bryan, a mechanical and aerospace engineering doctoral student in UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and lead author on the paper.
In addition, the technology could lead to new therapeutic devices that can contain and control the release of drugs or small molecules that can aid in the regeneration of tissue. The research was begun by a team led by Tommy Angelini, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace. The team was working on developing 3D printed tissue and organs when they discovered a new way to 3D print soft materials using microscopic hydrogel particles.
Previous granular gel particles were water-based, so they didn’t mix well with oily materials like silicone. So the team developed an oily version of the hydrogel particles.
“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.”
While the team’s goal is still to develop actual 3D printed organs, that’s a long way away – but the silicone implants they’ve 3D printed have immediate applications. Not only are they faster and less expensive, they’re also more flexible and comfortable, according to the University of Florida.
“The reality is that we are probably decades away from the widespread implanting of 3D printed tissues and organs into patients,” Angelini said. “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.”
The research has been published in a paper entitled “Self-assembled micro-organogels for 3D printing silicone structures,” which you can access here. Authors include Christoper S. O’Bryan, Tapomoy Bhattacharjee, Samuel Hart, Christopher P. Kabb, Kyle D. Schulze, Indrasena Chilakala, Brent. S. Sumerlin, W. Gregory Sawyer and Thomas E. Angelini.
Below, you can see a video of the silicone being 3D printed into the hydrogel support material:
Discuss in the University of Florida forum at 3DPB.com.[Source/Images: The University of Florida]