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Medical Implants 3D Printed with ‘Goo’

The Verge has a fascinating new article out about a groundbreaking bioprinting process developed at the University of Florida.

A team at the University of Florida led by Thomas Angelini and Chris O’Bryan have discovered a way to 3D print delicate objects such as medical implants.  They published their findings in the journal Science Advances.  Their new process works by “suspending fragile 3D printed structures in a Jello-like goo while the liquid ink [of the object] hardens, [which keeps the object from] warping or sagging.”

The problem this team was attempting to overcome occurs when a doctor or other medical professional wishes “to 3D print a thin, hollow, or otherwise fragile object.  The 3D printer lays down layers of a material like silicone until enough build up to form a tube.  But there’s this lag time between when the printer first squirts out the liquid ink, and when that ink solidifies – which presents a [conundrum]: how do you keep your structure from collapsing or bending before it fully hardens?”

This is why Angelini, O’Bryan, and the rest of their team at the University of Florida developed this goo.  This material, which they dubbed organogel, supports the liquid ink as it hardens.  Organogel is made from “squishy, microscopic, chemical balls that are packed together in mineral oil.”

O’Bryan explains: “[it’s] like a ball pit in McDonald’s.  Just shrunk down to sizes that are one-hundredth the size of a human hair.”  “Under most conditions, the organogel acts like a gooey solid that envelopes the 3D printed structure and keeps it immobile.  But during the actual printing process, the 3D printer’s nozzle puts just enough pressure on the organogel that the goo turns into a fluid right at the tip – flowing around the nozzle as it squirts silicone ink in a 3D pattern.”

Using this organogel, the team at the University of Florida “3D printed an extremely thin-walled windpipe that took 24 hours to harden – time when it could have bent or collapsed without the organogel’s support.  They also printed out what they affectionately call the ‘sea anemone,’ a strange little Cthulhu creation that squirts water through its tentacles.”

This was done in order to ensure organogel 3D printed implants of the future would be strong enough to “pump liquid without bursting or leaking.”  The experiment was a success!

Image and Quotes Courtesy of The Verge

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