Oct 19, 2016 | By Benedict

Korea’s Rural Development Administration (RDA) has announced the development of a new silk 3D printing system for medical equipment that uses silk protein as a 3D printing material. The system was developed jointly by the RDA and Hallym University.

Silk, a natural protein fiber obtained from cocoons, has many uses. In ancient times, traders would travel thousands of miles to obtain the finest silks from China, and textiles made from the substance have come to be seen as a luxurious product. Interestingly, silk has now been turned into a viable 3D bioprinting material through the research efforts of South Korea’s RDA and the country’s Hallym University, located in Chuncheon, Gangwon.

Silk protein is made up of 75 percent fibroin, a protein frequently used to make medical equipment thanks to its biocompatible properties. Such materials can be incredibly useful in the medical world, since devices made from biocompatible materials are less likely to cause problems for the human body. Recognizing the utility of biocompatible materials and the growing potential of 3D printing technology for creating precise shapes, the RDA and Hallym researchers decided to develop a silk 3D printing material for orthopedic implants such as plates, screws, and clips.

These 3D printed devices, which are surgically inserted into a patient to help stabilize and support broken bones, are often made from stainless steel or titanium alloy, but devices made from those materials require surgical removal once the patient fully recovers. 3D printed silk protein, on the other hand, is fully biodegradable, and therefore requires no surgical removal. This makes the 3D printed devices preferable to metal alternatives, as the potential for surgical trauma and complications is massively reduced. By optimizing printing temperatures and nozzle configurations for silk 3D bioprinting, the researchers were able to create a viable silk printing system for medical devices.

In addition to being biodegradable, durable, and stable, the 3D printed silk devices are also relatively cheap to produce, at roughly half the cost of a synthetic polymer device (₩ 150,000 or $134, compared to ₩ 300,000 or $268). Polymer devices can also be biodegradable, but often lack stability, whereas the 3D printed silk devices exhibited adequate strength and stability. The 3D printing process also allows medical professionals to create fully customized medical devices for individual patients, while implants can even be manufactured for curved areas like the skull and cheekbones, as well as for inosculating bones without causing inflammation or foreign body reactions.

According to the RDA, the silk 3D printing will now be developed further and primed for commercial use, boosting Korea’s position in the 3D printing and silk industries. “Once the technology becomes commercialized, it will allow for the production of a greater variety of biocompatible silk medical equipment, which will help improve national health while developing Korea’s sericulture industry,” an RDA official commented.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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