Apr 27, 2018 | By David

Engineers based at Temple University have made use of 3D printing technology to develop a unique concept for a new surgical needle. Taking inspiration from the natural world, they decided to explore the needle-like protrusions of stinging insects like mosquitos and wasps, before finally settling on the stinger of a honeybee as the basis for the new design. The project was carried out by Temple’s associate professor of Mechanical Engineering Parsaoran Hutapea, and PhD candidate Mohammad Sahlabadi.

We’ve reported before on 3D printing being used to help engineers solve problems by drawing on Mother Nature’s solutions. 3D printed shark skin has been used in an effort to improve aerodynamics for vehicles, and a 3D printed leaf micro-structure has been used to clean up oil spills. This latest project is one of the first times that the medical field has taken inspiration from the natural world.

"We brought some honeybees into the lab, and took out and inspected their stingers using a microscope", said Hutapea. "The way honeybees sting human skin is very attractive for what we’re trying to develop, because, due mainly to the stinger’s barbs, it goes relatively smoothly straight through the skin and into the tissue."

The shape of the bee sting fitted perfectly with what the researchers were trying to achieve with their new needle design, as they had hoped to create instruments that would decrease tissue damage while simultaneously increasing precision. Inspired by the bee’s sting, they developed a design for a needle that had small notches, or barbs, carved into it. These barbs will decrease the needles’ insertion and extraction forces, which helps to further minimize damage to tissue.

"Generally, a surgical needle will curve due to its tip design when inserted into tissue", said Hutapea. "The needle deviates from its planned path on the way to the target, such as a cancerous tissue or tumor. With this shape, the curve is limited—it makes it easier to control in a robotics setting. It’s critical, because if the needle curves, you miss the target."

(source: Temple University)

The next stage for the project is to focus on the materials that are required to realize the design in an optimal way. The prototypes were put together using a blend of polymers, but the final needle would need to be 3D printed from metal. The researchers believe that metal 3D printing technology is not yet at the level where it can perform as they want it to, as they require the metal needles to have both sub-millimeter size as well as a high aspect ratio.

"In the meantime, we are currently developing a compromise by looking at a manufacturing method to develop a hybrid metal-polymer needle," Hutapea said. "The hope is that in two to three years, we have that technology."

Their goal is to eventually 3D print these needles so that they can be usable in surgical practice. The road to FDA approval is long, but eventually they could see their honeybee-inspired surgical needles in clinical applications, being used to improve minimally invasive surgical procedures.

The two engineers have published articles on their surgical needle design project in the journals Minimally Invasive Therapy and Allied Technologies, and Bioinspiration & Biomimetics. They will be presenting their work at Temple’s Franklin Institute as part of a temporary 3D printing exhibition.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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