Nov 11, 2015 | By Tess

Researchers from the medical robotics department at London’s Imperial Hamlyn Centre have found a way to use existing micro-scale 3D printing technology to make breakthroughs in various medical applications including medical therapies, procedures, and devices.

The 3D printing technology being used, Nanoscribe’s Photonic Professional GT, utilizes a laser lithography system and is capable of additively manufacturing finely detailed objects at a size no bigger than the width of a human hair. The researchers at the Hamlyn Centre have managed to use the technology to create such devices as microrobots that can deliver drugs to a targeted area of the body precisely and efficiently, as well as nano-tools which can be used in microsurgery.

In practice, this means that doctors could eventually use the microrobots to deliver cancer treatment drugs, for example, to a specific, targeted part of the body rather than administering them to a larger region of the patient’s body. The micro-tools, for their part, could be useful in allowing for eye surgeons to perform complicated operations on the back of the human eye without the risk of much damage because of the size and precision of the tiny instruments.

In order to manufacture the minuscule devices and tools, the team at the Hamlyn Centre have employed a method called Two Photon Polymerization, which uses a controlled pulsed laser to polymerize (fuse together molecules), or to solidify a liquid photoresist, also known as a light-sensitive material. By controlling the laser’s movement, a structure can be additively manufactured, building up the object layer by layer just as a 3D printer might on a much larger scale.

So far, the team at the Hamlyn Centre have managed to build 3D structures with advanced features at a scale as small as 150 nanometers, which could ultimately provide surgeons with nano-scale tools with force-sensing capabilities to be used at a microscopic scale in surgery.

Recently, the Hamlyn Centre’s work was presented by its director Guang-Zhong Yang to the President of the People’s Republic of China Xi JinPing as well as several other Chinese and British officials including Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. The dignified guests visited the Hamlyn Centre earlier in October and were presented with gifts made by the same technology that has allowed for the medical breakthroughs.

“A section of the Great Wall of China was printed on to a square of silicon at one millionth of its true scale,” says Maura Power, one of the Hamlyn Centre’s PhD students. “The section of wall is just over 100 micrometers long, which is the same as the width of a typical human hair.” This minuscule but impressive token was presented to President Xi Jinping by Professor Guang-Zhong Yang in a framed silicon wafer along with a photo of the additively manufactured object, which was made by using a Scanning Electron Microscope.

Maura Power adds, “For Prince Andrew, a panda leaping over a bamboo was printed to the tip of a needle and also presented in a small frame. The height of the panda is approximately 50 micrometers, or half the width of a human hair.”

The Hamlyn Centre’s projects have been largely funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), one of the UK’s biggest funding agencies for research in the fields of engineering and physical sciences. The Hamlyn Centre, for its part, has been committed to furthering research and developing technologies within the healthcare sector, and has had a significant impact on research in imaging, sensing, and robotics in the context of global health challenges.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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