A new 3D printing technique that uses Hollywood-esque motion capture technology to print electronic sensors directly onto expanding and contracting organs might diagnose and monitor the lungs of patients with COVID-19 in near-future.
Conducted by mechanical engineers and computer scientists at the University of Minnesota, this new technology was built on the technique that was discovered two years ago that made printing of electronics and cells directly on the skin of a hand in motion possible.
Pushing the boundaries of 3D printing
Michael McAlpine, a mechanical engineering professor and senior researcher on the study, stated, "We are pushing the boundaries of 3D printing in new ways we never even imagined years ago. 3D 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."
Using 3D printer on balloon-like surfaces
It all started with a balloon-like surface and a specialized 3D printer. By using motion capture tracking markers, much like those used in Avengers movies to create superheroic effects, they were able to help the 3D printer adapt its printing path to the expansion and contraction movements on the surface.
Experiments were conducted with an animal lung that was artificially inflated, and as a result, they were able to print a soft hydrogel-based sensor on the surface.
Combining 3D printing technology with surgical robots
The researchers claim that the research could be used to combine 3D printing technology 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."
This new technique will allow 3D printing an array of sensors directly onto organs like the lungs or heart that continuously change shape and distort.
The research was published in Science Advances.