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4D printing opens path for advanced medical applications

22 Dec 2014  | Bruce Gain

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Analysts from Frost & Sullivan have forecasted that the healthcare industry will be one of the first sectors to benefit from 4D printing, which takes 3D printing further by designing devices that adapt and change their structure, in real-time if needed, described by Skylar Tibbits of MIT's Self-Assembly Lab.

Medical device makers are already developing applications using 4D printing, after researchers begin describing how the much-talked-about variation of 3D printing was possible in theory over a year ago. IN fact, 4D-printed medical applications could see the prototype stage by end of next year, the analysts added.

4D printing

4D printing takes 3D printing further by designing devices to adapt and change their structure, in real-time if needed, leading to innovative medical devices by the end of next year.

Developers are now looking for ways to design devices that might change physically once implanted in the human body in the medical field. A 4D-printed device, for example, might be programmed to change its shape and function if it comes into contact with certain cells or biochemical.

Tibbits recently wrote: Personal and responsive products will adapt to users' demands, biometric information, body temperature, sweat and internal pressures. Similarly, products can now become far more resilient and highly tuned to environmental changes including moisture content, temperature, pressure, altitude or sound. Unique and highly tuned products will be manufactured in completely new ways where materials are activated through ambient energies to come together on their own, reconfigure, mutate and replicate. Volume constraints in shipping will be dramatically reduced with flat-pack materials that are activated on delivery to full volume and functionality.

4D printing to make headway in medical implants

While the idea of implanting used devices in the human body may not sound appealing, 4D printing could put the concept to good use as devices become able to reprogram themselves to fit the needs of other patients.

"All of these future programmable products will not just be thrown away when they fail; rather, they will error-correct and self-repair to meet new demands," Tibbits wrote. "And even when they become obsolete, they can self-disassemble for pure recyclability, breaking themselves down to their fundamental components to be reconstituted as new products with lifelike capabilities in the future."

One such device in development that could see the prototype stage in the near future is neurovascular coils, said Venkat Rajan, an analyst for Frost & Sullivan.

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