How can bandages become any more personal? Try 3D printing.
Currently, Temple engineers are using 3D printing technology using electrospinning to create bandages that can be individually printed to fit a patient's own skin. Or, as professor of instruction Jon Gerstenhaber noted, something that fits you.
"The main technique is making a fabric, sort of like a felt. Individual fibers are hundreds of nanometers wide—much thinner than a hair," Gerstenhaber described. "Instead of using wool fibers, we take soy proteins and turn them into very thin fibers. At an image level, it this looks a lot like the natural matrix of how our cells live."
There are two main components Gerstenhaber uses in the current prototype: a larger robotic piece—itself made with 3D printed components—along with a smaller, hand-held piece. He will have both at a live demonstration at the Franklin Institute on March 25th.
The electrospinning robot demo is essentially a modified 3D printer that prints on a three-dimensional target: a nose taken from a CT scan. Then, the robot moves the target while the printer spins the fibers to land across the entire nose consistently.
The hand-held version also relies on air flowing around the thread to create the fibers a bit faster.
"The method we use to create these fibers is sort of how you create thread from wool by pulling it through a needle and spinning it—just a hundred times smaller," Gerstenhaber said. "The thread is pulled through an electric field from that soy protein solution."
In addition to wound healing, there are possibilities for creating bandages as interface tissue for implanting new body parts.
"The larger focus of our lab is tissue engineering: rather than building new parts, like a new hip, finding ways for that hip to repair the damage that may have been done to it," Gerstenhaber said. "But, sometimes we really do need to rely on surgery. Ideally, anything being implanted into your body will integrate productively, and these fabrics help with that."
Another unique feature is the lab's reliance on the soy protein solution instead of hazardous solvents like hexafluoro isopropanol (HFIP), widely used in electrospinning.
"Water-based solvents and the air flow, there aren't a lot of labs doing that yet," Gerstenhaber said.
Visit Dr. Gerstenhaber on March 25 between 1 - 4 pm at the Franklin Institute to see the electrospinning robot in action.