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A do-it-yourself 3D printer is revolutionizing medical technology



In the world of medtech 3D printing, Michael McAlpine is a sort of rock star. Associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota, McAlpine has been at the center of a series of milestones, the most recent of which is 3D printing of a series of light receptors on a hemispherical surface. That success has been called a "significant step towards the creation of a bionic eye". Previously, he and other researchers have printed a bionic ear, realistic artificial organs for pre-surgical planning, and cells and scaffolds for spinal cord therapy. of this has been achieved in the last seven years! McAlpine will address the evolution of 3D printing and its role in the development of multifunctional medical devices during a presentation PLASTEC is Medical design and production (MD & M), arriving in Minneapolis on October 31 and November 1, 2018.

McAlpine electronic tattoo with 3D printing
McAlpine and his team of researchers from the University of Minnesota have developed a technique to print
electronic directly on human skin. Photo courtesy of the McAlpine group, University of Minnesota.

"We printed our first bionic ear in 2013," said McAlpine PlasticsToday. "Until that project, I had not even heard of 3D printing, it was invented over the years & # 80 and somehow I lost it, but we started working with technology about seven years ago, and let's look at how far we have come, "said McAlpine. Much of this progress, at least from his point of view, has been enabled by a 3D printer built by his team of researchers.

"Most 3D printers are designed for plastics or rigid rubber, and there is some value in this for medical devices, but they are limited primarily [printing parts for] structural applications, "said McAlpine PlasticsToday. "With our printer, we can use electronic inks, including conductive inks and semiconductors, very soft materials such as silicones, and live cells and scaffolds." McAlpine describes the printer as a sort of all-in-one system – "we call it a single-pot platform "- where all types of materials can be integrated. It allows the manufacture of parts that are beyond the reach of other technologies, including MicroFab and injection molding, according to McAlpine. "The sky is the limit for medical and other applications."

One of the ways in which 3D printing represents a change in medical production, according to McAlpine, is in the production of patient-specific devices. "You want the device to conform to the body and be anatomically accurate, and it's something 3D printing brings to the table." You also want the device to be composed of various materials, structural and coating elements, and electronic stimulation materials. to materials and soft cells. "The printer built by McAlpine's team achieves this at a surprisingly low cost. "We're talking about $ 50,000 to $ 100,000 for the high end," says McAlpine. But do not think about rushing to buy one more: the printer has not been commercialized and probably will not be in its current form.

"We did not file a patent for the printer because we assembled it into pieces using various parts, but we have patents on other things," explains McAlpine. "The most important patent, in my opinion, was granted at the beginning of this year, it's called" 3D printed active materials and electronic devices. "Through it, we have practically all the semiconductor devices based on Extrusion of particles ".

McAlpine believes that the work of his team in the laboratory will eventually lead someone to bring a printer of this type to the market. And this could lead to a revolution in access to medical technology.

"3D printing can help decentralize medical technology," says McAlpine. "Once ordinary people have one of these printers at home, they can start printing their own devices, and it's not as far in the future as you might think." Consider what your team of researchers achieved in just seven years, says McAlpine, and extrapolate it in the future. It's shocking.

As for his future efforts, McAlpine emphasizes the development of implantable implants in 3D as the next steps. An area of ​​interest concerns devices for regeneration of peripheral nerves.


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