Temple University associate professor of Mechanical Engineering Parsaoran Hutapea and PhD candidate Mohammad Sahlabadi have explored a new concept for a 3D printed surgical needle. Their inspiration? Bees.
“I told (Sahlabadi) we should try to look at nature, such as mosquitos, honeybees, wasps,” claims Hutapea, who has been using 3D printing technology to develop surgical needles since 2011. “We brought some honeybees into the lab, and took out and inspected their stingers using a microscope. 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.”
In developing the surgical needles, the team hopes to create more precise instruments that can also reduce tissue damage. The needle was fabricated from a blend of polymers.
Using honey bee stingers as a template, they devised a design with small barbs carved into the needle, reducing the insertion and extraction forces of the needle.
“Generally, a surgical needle will curve due to its tip design when inserted into tissue. 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,” says Hutapea. “It’s critical, because if the needle curves, you miss the target.”
However, the 3D printed surgical needle isn’t usable in practice yet, as the design and 3D printing technology used will require further refinement. Eventually, the goal is to develop a honey bee surgical needle that is usable and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. The surgical needles are currently on display at the Franklin Institute as part of a 3D printing exhibit.
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