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3D printers to make mark in medical apps

Posted: 11 Dec 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Roger Narayan? 3D printing? implant valves? medical apps?

Although the technology is not yet ready, 3D printers may one day become a staple at medical device companies. The printers would allow these companies to produce an array of products from custom implant valves to ultra-fine micro-needle arrays for drug delivery.

Roger Narayan, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) stated that a handful of current 3D printing techniques all hold promise and pitfalls. The systems are typically much faster and simple than conventional manufacturing techniques. However, they are still relatively imprecise, expensive and lack bio-compatibility.

"There's a lot of interest in honing these techniques for medical apps," said Narayan in a talk at the BioMeDevices Forum. "We are getting to the point where surgical implants can be made with rapid prototypingsome dentists are already using it for temporary crowns," he said.

In the near term, some forms of 3D printers could be used to create molds or casts for a wide variety of small implants, valves and disposable devices. They could also be an alternative for making micro-needle arrays where traditional processes are seen as a bottleneck, Narayan said.

"It's really about lower cost systems, wider choice of input materials and improved bio-compatibility" for these applications, he said.

Long term, 3D printing holds promise to make combination devices that mix living cells with other materials to create implants that are less frequently rejected by the human body. But that will require a generation of more cell-friendly 3-D printers.

Narayan has conducted 3D printing experiments using an argon fluoride excimer laser, one of many approaches that can use cells as an input media. But currently, "the scaling is not there, throughput is too low," he said.

Meanwhile, some stereo lithography systems using liquids are creating features that range from 75 to 10 microns. A relatively new two-photon polymerisation approach has created features measuring as little as 100 nm. "So you can get to truly small scale structures nowadays," he said.

3D printing approaches

Roger Narayan gave a walkthrough of current 3D printing approaches and their medical uses.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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