Vastly superior medical implants for millions with new 3D printing method

via University of Florida

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.

In a paper published today in the journal Science Advances, researchers lay out the process they developed 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.

Silicone is 3D printed into the micro-organogel support material. The printing nozzle follows a predefined trajectory, depositing liquid silicone in its wake. The liquid silicone is supported by the micro-organgel material during this printing process.

Currently, such devices are molded, which could 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 is 3D printing, allowing us create very complex structures and even encapsulated parts out of silicone elastomer,” said  lead author Christopher O’Bryan, a mechanical and aerospace engineering doctoral student in UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and lead author on the paper.

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. Almost monthly we see major media and public outcry against high health care costs, wasteful spending in hospitals, exorbitant pharmaceutical costs,” 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.

The problem was, the previous granular gel materials were water-based, so they were incompatible with oily “inks” like silicone. It was literally a case of trying to mix oil and water.

To solve that problem, the team came up with an oily version of the microgels.

“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.”

Water is pumped from one reservoir to another using a 3D printed silicone valve. The silicone valve contains two encapsulated ball valves that allow water to be pumped through the valve by squeezing the lower chamber. The silicone valve demonstrates the ability of our 3D printing method to create multiple encapsulated components in a single part — something that cannot be done with a traditional 3D printing approach.

Manufacturing organs and tissues remains a primary goal, but one that likely is many years away from reality.

Not so with the medical implants.

“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.”

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Powering medical implants with solar cells placed under the skin

Measurement device fixated on the upper arm. Photo: Lukas Bereuter

First real-life study to provide data on the potential of powering medical implants with solar cells

The notion of using solar cells placed under the skin to continuously recharge implanted electronic medical devices is a viable one. Swiss researchers have done the math, and found that a 3.6 square centimeter solar cell is all that is needed to generate enough power during winter and summer to power a typical pacemaker.

The study is the first to provide real-life data about the potential of using solar cells to power devices such as pacemakers and deep brain stimulators. According to lead author Lukas Bereuter of Bern University Hospital and the University of Bern in Switzerland, wearing power-generating solar cells under the skin will one day save patients the discomfort of having to continuously undergo procedures to change the batteries of such life-saving devices. The findings are set out in Springer’s journal Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

Most electronic implants are currently battery powered, and their size is governed by the battery volume required for an extended lifespan. When the power in such batteries runs out, these must either be recharged or changed. In most cases this means that patients have to undergo implant replacement procedures, which is not only costly and stressful but also holds the risk of medical complications. Having to use primary batteries also influences the size of a device.

Various research groups have recently put forward prototypes of small electronic solar cells that can be carried under the skin and can be used to recharge medical devices.  The solar cells convert the light from the sun that penetrates the skin surface into energy.

To investigate the real-life feasibility of such rechargeable energy generators, Bereuter and his colleagues developed specially designed solar measurement devices that can  measure the output power being generated.  The cells were only 3.6 square centimeters in size, making them small enough to be implanted if needed. For the test, each of the ten devices was covered by optical filters to simulate how properties of the skin would influence how well the sun penetrates the skin. These were worn on the arm of 32 volunteers in Switzerland for one week during summer, autumn and winter.

No matter what  season, the tiny cells were always found to generate much more than the 5 to 10 microwatts of power that a typical cardiac pacemaker uses. The participant with the lowest power output still obtained 12 microwatts on average.

“The overall mean power obtained is enough to completely power for example a pacemaker or at least extend the lifespan of any other active implant,” notes Bereuter. “By using energy-harvesting devices such as solar cells to power an implant, device replacements may be avoided and the device size may be reduced dramatically.”

Bereuter believes that the results of this study can be scaled up and applied to any other mobile, solar powered application on humans.  Aspects such as the catchment area of a solar cell, its efficiency and the thickness of a patient’s skin must be considered.

 

 

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Dissolvable Silicon Circuits and Sensors

J.Rogers/UIUC A new generation of transient electronic devices function in water but dissolve when their function is no longer needed.


J.Rogers/UIUC
A new generation of transient electronic devices function in water but dissolve when their function is no longer needed.

Transient Electronics that Dissolve in Water Usher in Next Generation of Devices, from Green Technologies to Medical Implants

Electronic devices that dissolve completely in water, leaving behind only harmless end products, are part of a rapidly emerging class of technology pioneered by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Early results demonstrate the entire complement of building blocks for integrated circuits, along with various sensors and actuators with relevance to clinical medicine, including most recently intracranial monitors for patients with traumatic brain injury. The advances suggest a new era of devices that range from green consumer electronics to ‘electroceutical’ therapies, to biomedical sensor systems that do their work and then disappear.

John A. Rogers’ research group at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering Frederick Seitz Materials Research Laboratory is leading the development of such concepts, along with all of the required materials, device designs and fabrication techniques for applications that lie beyond the scope of semiconductor technologies that are available today.

“Our most recent combined developments in devices that address real challenges in clinical medicine and in advanced, high volume manufacturing strategies suggest a promising future for this new class of technology,” said Rogers. He will present these and other results at the AVS 61st International Symposium & Exhibition, being held November 9-14, 2014 in Baltimore, Md.

Practical applications might include: bioresorbable devices that reduce infection at a surgical site. Other examples are temporary implantable systems, such as electrical brain monitors to aid rehabilitation from traumatic injuries or electrical simulators to accelerate bone growth. Additional classes of devices can even be used for programmed drug delivery, Rogers said.

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Louisiana Tech researchers use 3D printers to create custom medical implants

Jeffery Weisman, a doctoral student in Louisiana Tech University’s biomedical engineering program, uses a consumer-grade 3D printer and materials to create custom medical implant ‘beads’ that contain antibiotic and drug delivery properties.

Jeffery Weisman, a doctoral student in Louisiana Tech University’s biomedical engineering program, uses a consumer-grade 3D printer and materials to create custom medical implant ‘beads’ that contain antibiotic and drug delivery properties.

Breakthrough technology creates materials infused with cancer-fighting drugs, antibiotics

A team of researchers at Louisiana Tech University has developed an innovative method for using affordable, consumer-grade 3D printers and materials to fabricate custom medical implants that can contain antibacterial and chemotherapeutic compounds for targeted drug delivery.

The team comprised of doctoral students and research faculty from Louisiana Tech’s biomedical engineering and nanosystems engineering programs collaborated to create filament extruders that can make medical-quality 3D printing filaments. Creating these filaments, which have specialized properties for drug delivery, is a new concept that can result in smart drug delivering medical implants or catheters.

“After identifying the usefulness of the 3D printers, we realized there was an opportunity for rapid prototyping using this fabrication method,” said Jeffery Weisman, a doctoral student in Louisiana Tech’s biomedical engineering program. “Through the addition of nanoparticles and/or other additives, this technology becomes much more viable using a common 3D printing material that is already biocompatible. The material can be loaded with antibiotics or other medicinal compounds, and the implant can be naturally broken down by the body over time.”

According to Weisman, personalized medicine and patient specific medication regiments is a current trend in healthcare. He says this new method of creating medically compatible 3D printing filaments will offer hospital pharmacists and physicians a novel way to deliver drugs and treat illness.

“One of the greatest benefits of this technology is that it can be done using any consumer printer and can be used anywhere in the world,” Weisman said.

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Researchers Present a New Method of Wirelessly Recharging Medical Device Batteries with Ultrasound

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BATS | Physics of Ultrasound www.bats.ac.nz

Tune In, Turn On, Power Up

Human beings don’t come with power sockets, but a growing numbers of us have medical implants that run off electricity. To keep our bionic body parts from powering down, a group of Arizona researchers is developing a safe, noninvasive, and efficient means of wireless power transmission through body tissue. The team presents their findings at the 166th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, held Dec. 2 – 6 in San Francisco, Calif.

Medical implants treat a variety of conditions such as chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, deep brain tremors, heart rhythm disturbances, and nerve and muscle disorders. If the batteries in the devices lose their charge, minor surgery is needed to replace them, causing discomfort, introducing the risk of infection, and increasing the cost of treatment.

This is a scenario the Arizona researchers are aiming to change.

Their novel wireless power approach is based on piezoelectric generation of ultrasound. The Greek root, “piezo”, means “squeeze.” In piezoelectrical systems, materials are squeezed or stressed to produce a voltage. In turn, applied voltages can cause compression or extension. Piezoelectric materials have specific crystalline structures. The team’s piezoelectric system has been tested in animal tissue with encouraging results.

“The goal of this approach is wireless power transmission to human implantable power generators (IPGs),” explained lead researcher Leon J. Radziemski of Tucson-based Piezo Energy Technologies. “Charging experiments were performed on 4.1 Volt medical-grade lithium-ion batteries. Currents of 300 milliamperes (mA) have been delivered across tissue depths of up to 1.5 centimeters. At depths of 5 centimeters, 20 mA were delivered. Currents such as these can service most medical-grade rechargeable batteries.”

With Dr. Inder Makin, an experienced ultrasound researcher, the team has tested the device in pigs to demonstrate safe charging over several hours of ultrasound exposure. The system works like this: A source such as a wall plug or battery powers the transmitter. Ultrasound passes from the transmitter through the intervening tissue to the implanted IPG housing the piezoelectric receiver. After positioning the transmitter, the patient can control the procedure from a hand-held device that communicates with the implant. When charging is complete, the implant signals this and turns off the transmitter.

Wireless recharging transmission has been tried before using a different technology, electromagnetic recharging. Given the proliferation of battery-powered medical implanted therapies, the Radziemski team sees an emerging and expanding need for increased rechargeable power options.

“Ultrasound rechargeable batteries can extend the time between replacements considerably, reducing health care costs and patient concerns,” Radziemski said. The next step involves further testing and development in hopes of commercializing the technology within two to five years.

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