Dec 6, 2017 | By David

Fully-functional replacement organs could be the next big step for 3D printing technology in the medical sector, but that is still some way off, with bio-engineers currently trying to perfect the fabrication of smaller tissues. However, 3D printing is still making considerable strides with the production of artificial versions of organs, which are often used as guides for surgical procedures.  A group of researchers at the University of Minnesota recently filed a patent for its own pioneering technique, which has succeeded in creating some of the most life-like organ replicas yet seen in the industry.

Accordgin to the team’s lead researcher Michael McAlpine, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota and a 2017 recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), “The organ models we are 3D printing are almost a perfect replica in terms of the look and feel of an individual’s organ, using our custom-built 3D printers... We think these organ models could be ‘game-changers’ for helping surgeons better plan and practice for surgery. We hope this will save lives by reducing medical errors during surgery.”

Some years ago McAlpine formed the McAlpine Research Group, after having attracted attention at Princeton for his development of 3D printed "bionic ears". One of the Group's early projects was the production of tiny, stretchable electronic sensory devices, made using its own custom-made 3D printers. These devices could be used as bionic skin for surgical robots, or a new class of wearables that are directly printed onto human skin.

Setting its sights on the development of artificial organs to be used as surgical guides, the team took MRI scans and tissue samples from three patients’ prostate glands. They tested the tissue and then used customized silicone-based inks which were modified to precisely match the mechanical properties of each patient’s prostate tissue.  After 3D printing prostate models using these inks, the researchers attached soft, 3D printed sensors to the models. The team were then able to observe how the glands reacted to compression tests and the application of various surgical tools.

“The sensors could give surgeons real-time feedback on how much force they can use during surgery without damaging the tissue. This could change how surgeons think about personalized medicine and pre-operative practice,” said Kaiyan Qiu, a University of Minnesota mechanical engineering postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the paper “3D Printed Organ Models with Physical Properties of Tissue and Integrated Sensors”, which was published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies.

The team is now seeking a patent for this innovative 3D printing system, and they believe that it could easily be applied for the production of more complex organs. Using the right ink, or combination of inks, would even allow them to replicate the feel of a particular tumor or deformity inside a specific person’s organ. This would enable surgeons to more effectively plan how to remove or correct the problem.

Most artificial organs currently used by surgeons are made from hard plastic materials or rubber, and they tend to look and behave quite differently to their real biological counterparts. This problem is now starting to look like one to which major 3D printing companies could also provide a solution, and 3D printing giant Stratasys has responded to this growing demand for more lifelike models with its recently released Stratasys Biomimics material. Given the right tools to commercialize their project, the McAlpine Research Group and its collaborators are well positioned to take advantage of this new gap in the market.

The research was funded primarily by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. According to Šeila Selimović, PhD, director of the NIBIB program in biosensors, "This project illustrates how successfully mechanical engineers and medical doctors can collaborate and develop novel and promising technologies for medical treatment."



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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