UNSW Sydney introduces newly developed 3D bioprinting surgical tool

Image credit: Dr Thanh Do | UNSW Sydney

Researchers from UNSW Sydney have engineered a miniature soft robotic arm capable of 3D printing biomaterial directly onto the organs of a person. 

Led by Dr Thanh Nho Do and his PhD student Mai Thanh Thai, the new research from UNSW Medical Robotics Lab involves other researchers from UNSW such as Scientia Professor Nigel Lovell, Dr Hoang-Phuong Phan, and Associate Professor Jelena Rnjak-Kovacina and was published in Advanced Science

The flexible 3D bioprinter can be inserted into a patient’s body like an endoscope and directly deliver multilayered biomaterials onto the surface of internal organs and tissues, UNSW said in an article. 

The proof-of-concept device, dubbed F3DB, is equipped with a highly manoeuvrable swivel head that prints the bioink to create natural tissue-like structures, all of which can be controlled externally. 

Researchers said with further development, the technology could be used by medical professionals to access hard-to-reach areas inside the body through small skin incisions or natural orifices. 

The research team have trialled the device inside an artificial colon and tried 3D printing a variety of materials with different shapes on the surface of a pig’s kidney. 

“Existing 3D bioprinting techniques require biomaterials to be made outside the body and implanting that into a person would usually require large open-field open surgery which increases infection risks,” explained Do. 

“Our flexible 3D bioprinter means biomaterials can be directly delivered into the target tissue or organs with a minimally invasive approach,” he added. 

The F3BD, which has been granted a provisional patent, will serve as an all-in-one endoscopic tool that avoids the use of changeable tools, which usually prolongs procedural time and increases risks of infection, said Mai Thanh Thai. 

The next stage of the development for the F3DB is in vivo testing on living animals to demonstrate its practical use. 

Researchers are planning to implement additional features, such as an integrated camera and real-time scanning system that would reconstruct the 3D tomography of the moving tissue inside the body.