Sep 19, 2017 | By Benedict

Researchers at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland are developing 3D printing materials for wound care in hospitals. The materials use cellulose nanofibrils, and have been paired with printed electronics for next-level healthcare.

When you think of medical 3D printing applications, a few things probably come to mind: 3D printed titanium implants, 3D printed surgical models, and even the 3D bioprinting of human tissue. But one of the more niche uses of additive tech within hospital walls is for wound care, an area of treatment that is benefitting greatly from new developments in materials and fabrication techniques.

Using cellulose nanofibrils, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is developing a 3D wound care product for monitoring wound condition in hospital care. And although it could be a while before these products are approved for use on patients, variations on the new materials are already being tested on non-medical products like textiles and indoor decorations.

The appeal of cellulose lies in its functional properties. For example, by making a wound care product from the nanofibrils, VTT scientists think they can attach a protein to a 3D printed adhesive bandage to help promote the growth of skin cells around a wound. In addition, the wound area remains flexible instead of developing stiff scar tissue.

The scientists say that cellulose nanofibrils are suitable for the development of 3D printing pastes because they have a high level of mechanical strength, as well as having positive effects on viscosity and biodegradability. In general, the use of cellulose has an effect on a 3D printed structure’s moisture tolerance, rigidity, and flexibility.

“By using nanocellulose, we have succeeded in creating 3D structures that absorb liquids three times more efficiently than the compared alginate fibre dressings commonly used in wound care,” commented Panu Lahtinen, a senior scientist at VTT. By absorbing moisture from a wound, the materials can ultimately shorten healing time.

Amazingly, the printed wound care product can even incorporate electronics. VTT’s prototype combines nanocellulose, a protein used in wound care, and printed electronics. Measurement electrodes are printed with silver ink onto a film made of polyurethane-nanocellulose, and these electrodes provide connection points for a wireless FlexNode reader, also developed at VTT.

The FlexNode reader, connected to the wound and attached to the patient with gauze, is a true example of next-generation healthcare technology, as it wirelessly transmits temperature or bioimpedance data from the wound to a hospital computer. This allows medical staff to be constantly tuned in to the status of a patient’s recovery, alerting them if there are signs of infection or other complications.

However, the 3D printed wound care gel also plays a key role. Containing nanocellulose, alginate, and glycerol as its active ingredients, the gel keeps the wound healthy while acting as a buffer between the body and the electronic components.

The VTT researchers are, however, aware that they need to take things slowly.

(Images: VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland)

With nanocellulose not yet approved for medical use, the team are trying out other uses for the materials, including bio-based printing materials for textiles, mock-ups, indoor decoration elements, and therapy applications—all in the domain of wound care. In these attempts, the researchers have been able to print both flexible and rigid structures, depending on the case at hand.

If the medical world decides that nanocellulose should be approved for medical use, it might not be long before we see skin-encouraging, message-transmitting wound care on patients around the globe.

A paper documenting the researchers’ findings, “3D-Printable Bioactivated Nanocellulose–Alginate Hydrogels,” has been published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

The project is being carried out in collaboration with the University of Tampere, and is funded by The Academy of Finland under the BioDisp3D program.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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