We’re still awaiting the nanobot medical revolution that was promised by science fiction decades ago and, at this point, we’re probably less and less sure that we’d want such a thing to begin with. Nevertheless, progress is being made in the world of tiny medicine. Boston Micro Fabrication (BMF) has teamed with British materials firm 4D Biomaterials to enable the 3D printing of microscale, bioresorbable, microscale medical devices.
BMF’s projection micro-stereolithography (PµSL) is similar to digital light processing (DLP), except that it uses a digital micro display projector to cure photopolymer resin at the microscale. This makes it capable of printing objects 100 times smaller than a human hair. So far, the company’s technology has been used for more complex electrical routing for microelectronic subsystems, among other applications. 4D Biomaterials develops 3D printable, biocompatible and bioresorbable materials that can exhibit such mechanical properties as softness, pliability, and adipose tissue-like behavior to firm and rigid, bone-like properties.
By combining BMF’s PµSL with 4D Biomaterials’ 4Degra resin the two businesses hope to create biocompatible and bioresorbable micro-scale medical devices. These would range from rigid orthopedic devices and fixations to soft tissue applications, all at the microscale. While they haven’t specified what products they have in mind, we have seen a great deal of research into microscopic drug delivery systems and microneedles, and can also imagine the production of micro cannulas, micro stents, and other devices.
BMF says that it already has customers looking to 3D print micro-scale medical devices. BMF CEO John Kawola elaborated:
“Our customers continue to seek out solutions to miniaturize and now with bioresorbable material options, a whole new range of devices is possible. Miniaturization in medical device development has been held back by the limitations of traditional manufacturing methods and the materials available. The BMF and 4D Biomaterials partnership is working toward eliminating those barriers.”
“This partnership with BMF represents a huge opportunity when it comes to printing micro-structures. We are enabling medical device companies to think about 3D printing micro-resorbable implants for the first time,” said Philip Smith, CEO of 4D Biomaterials. “The bioresorbable polymers market is estimated to be USD 1.0 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach USD 1.6 billion by 20261 We are already seeing the demand from this market growth as the range of applications continues to widen with the advancements in hardware, software and materials technology.”
Both companies are still new, carving a niche out for themselves in the world of micro 3D printing and biomaterials, but as they find customers and publish case studies, the exact possibilities of these technologies will start to become clearer. And, even then, they will only scratch the surface because, when it comes to niches such as theirs, there’s only so much that we can imagine for such unimaginable technologies.
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