Oct 19, 2018 | By Thomas

Stephen Lawrence Prize-winning architects Anna Liu and Mike Tonkin of London-based Tonkin Liu have developed an innovative medical device called the Shell Lace Stent for use in patients' windpipes. The prototype stent is based on the firm’s signature Shell Lace Structure, a “single-surface structural technology designed and developed through a decade of research for architectural and engineering applications,” and prototyped using digital design software and 3D printing.

Tonkin Liu has pioneered the use of structures based on a single-surface shell lace design – such as its Solar Gate sculpture in Hull, completed last year, as well as in ultra-lightweight pavilions, bridges and towers. The new stent design exerts a natural outward pressure that lessens the risk of movement – one of the problems that affects products currently in use. To be suitable for medical use, the 3D printed prototype is 500 times smaller than those previously created for their architectural applications and was developed in collaboration with Arup and the Natural History Museum.

Tracheal stents are commonly used to support transplants of the trachea and to treat collapsed airways in cases of throat cancer, trauma, and old age. Stents are typically manufactured as a non-tailored tubular mesh. Tonkin Liu’s stent design is c-shaped rather than tubular, with the aim of adapting better to the individual shape of each patient's throat. The C-shaped design unfurls once inserted, creating a strong fit inspired by the geometric principles of Calla Lily petals. The device is manufactured from medical grade silicon, with a perforated surface allowing for breathability and drug-delivery to the trachea tissues.

"This project is small in scale but grand in ambition," comment Mike Tonkin, Co-founder of Tonkin Liu. "It demonstrates how architects can apply themselves beyond architecture – how we can design things other than buildings. We hope now to bring the Shell Lace Stent to manufacture and we can design things other than buildings. Our aim is now to bring the Shell Lace Stent to manufacture stage and see it bring tangible benefits to patients globally."

"We need to collectively reimagine the role of the architect – the architecture sector has great potential to engage with different realms and professions. As we all live longer and make greater demands on the medical profession, we should all look to use what skills we have (in our case advanced digital design and fabrication) to collaborate and benefit society."

The design has drawn excitement from leading medical experts. Professor Martin Birchall, UCL Professor of Laryngology and Consultant in ENT Surgery at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital heralded it as “a remarkable and unprecedented stent invention, that is ground-breaking in the context of currently available devices.”

All images credit: Tonkin Liu

The Shell Lace Stent has now been approved as patent pending. Tonkin Liu are working with research partners to bring the innovation to market, as well as exploring broader applications of the technology for other parts of the human body. The prototype stent development was supported by funding from the government-funded Innovate UK program in 2016.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Suncat2000 wrote at 10/23/2018 9:54:47 PM:

It was my understanding that silicon was brittle and not particularly bio-compatible. I'm curious why a softer, calcium-based material wasn't selected instead. I don't intend that to take anything away from their innovation.

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