Image credit: University of FloridaImage credit: University of FloridaResearchers at the University of Florida, using 3-D printing technology, are improving the timeliness of implanting medical devices.

Published in Science Advances, researchers describe the process of creating items using 3-D printing and soft silicone. The items— ports for draining bodily fluids, implantable bands, balloons, soft catheters, slings and meshes—are less expensive to make, stronger, more flexible and more comfortable than what is available.

Often, the items that are currently available are molded, which is a time-consuming process due to the time it takes to customize a part to fit an individual patient. The University of Florida method reduces the time it takes to hours instead of days or weeks—a matter of time that could be life-saving.

Discovered while the research team was working on methods for printing organs and tissue, the new method manufactures the soft materials using 3-D printing and microscopic hydrogel particles as a medium. Concerned that the previously used water-based gel materials were incompatible with oily “inks” like silicone, the team created an oily version of the microgels. According to researchers, once they started printing oily silicone inks into the oily microgel materials, the printed parts held their shapes. The result: Excellent 3-D printed silicone parts.

Additionally, the new method is thought to be less expensive than current methods.

"The public is more sensitive to the high costs of medical care than ever before. Almost monthly we see major media and public outcry against high health care costs, wasteful spending in hospitals, exorbitant pharmaceutical costs," said team member Tommy Angelini, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace. "Everybody agrees on the need to reduce costs in medicine."

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