3D printing an array of sensors directly onto expanding, contracting organs is now reality

Researchers used motion capture tracking to help the printer adjust its path to the movements of an organ.

The University of Minnesota has developed a 3D printing technique to print electronic sensors directly on organs that are expanding and contracting.

According to a Science Daily report, this latest 3D printing technique could even have near-future applications in diagnosing and monitoring the lungs of patients with COVID-19.

The research was carried out by the mechanical engineers and computer scientists of the University of Minnesota by harnessing motion capture technology similar to that used in Hollywood to make motion pictures and realistic animation.

 3D printing an array of sensors directly onto expanding, contracting organs is now reality

The new technique developed by University of Minnesota researchers allows 3D printing of hydrogel-based sensors directly on organs, like the lungs, that change shape or distort due to expanding and contracting. Image: Screengrab from McAlpine Research Group, University of Minnesota/YouTube

According to the report, the new technique allows for even more sophisticated tracking that allows for 3D printing sensors onto organs like the heart or lungs.

The results of the study were published in Science Advances, a peer-reviewed publication by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Speaking about the study, Michael McAlpine, a University of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor and senior researcher on the study told TechXplore that they are pushing the boundaries of 3D printing in ways it was not imagined even years ago.

"3-D printing on a moving object is difficult enough, but it was quite a challenge to find a way to print on a surface that was deforming as it expanded and contracted," McAlpine added.

According to EurekaAlert, the research started in a lab with a balloon-like surface and a specialised 3D printer. Researchers used motion capture tracking markers to help the printer adjust its path to the expanding and contracting movements of the surface, ultimately becoming successful in printing a sensor on an artificially inflated animal lung.

Elaborating that the broader idea behind the research is to combine 3D printing tech with surgical robots McAlpine added, "In the future, 3D printing will not be just about printing but instead be part of a larger autonomous robotic system. This could be important for diseases like COVID-19 where health care providers are at risk when treating patients.”

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