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The prototype that prints medical implants in 3D through polymer electroextrusion is now operational

05 November 2021
The innovation and development of new materials opens many doors in the medical world, and the use of polymeric materials, in particular, allows us to create medical devices that are stronger and more flexible.

To respond to demands for improvement of these materials, a team of INEGI's researchers developed a prototype that produces polymer fibers through electrospinning. These fibers, biodegradable and with better isotropic and mechanical performance, have already been tested, and are destined for the production of medical implants.

From this prototype, surgical meshes were born, for application in the treatment of female pelvic floor disorders, with promising properties. The subject of an exhaustive study, the meshes showed an isotropic behavior and mechanical properties similar to human tissue, unlike the polypropylene nets currently in market.

In partnership with the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology of the University of Porto (INEB) and the Institute for Research and Innovation in Health (I3S), the biocompatibility of the meshes and the capacity to support cell adhesion and proliferation were also proven.

Electrospinning is a process with high productivity and low cost

Electrospinning "is an electro-hydrodynamic process, where electrostatic forces, induced by a high voltage source applied to a liquid polymer jet, make it possible to produce continuous fibers, with microscale diameters", says António Fernandes, responsible for the project at INEGI. When combined with 3D printing, it allows to obtain complex structures, and to develop new applications and geometric patterns.

Another advantage is the low production cost, together with a high productivity rate. According to the researcher, "recently it has also become possible to produce fibers with diameters at the micron or submicron scale, thus eliminating one of the main limitations for a more generalized use of this technology".

The results obtained by the team show the potential of this manufacturing process in medical applications, but also in other applications, in sectors such as the electronics industry, process industry (filtering and separation membranes), and technical textiles.

Computational analysis also supports more effective treatments

Within the scope of this project, the team of specialists in biomechanics at INEGI has also been focusing on the development of computational models of different techniques for anchoring/fixing networks in surgeries to correct prolapse of pelvic organs. The objective is to have means of comparison between techniques, evaluating their potential success in future patients.

As Elisabete Silva, responsible for these developments explains, "the creation of innovative tools to increase the biomechanical knowledge associated with this condition can be crucial for the realization of effective and viable treatments. One of these models, for example, allowed us to conclude that different types of sutures influence the results of surgical treatment”.

The SPINMESH project - Electroinjection of resorbable polymers for the manufacture of nets for the correction of prolapses is co-financed by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund, within the framework of COMPETE 2020, under the Incentive System for Research and Technological Development.

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