MPMN_Medical Product Manufacturing News

Medical Product Manufacturing News, November/December 2015

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q m e d . c o m / m p m n M e d i c a l P r o d u c t M a n u f a c t u r i n g n e w s n o v e M b e r / d e c e M b e r 2 0 1 5 7 a novel exoskeleton has been developed using a diverse collection of advanced sensors to assist with various bodily movements, announced researchers at the aalborg university in denmark. the suit is equipped with motors that can help support the user with everyday movements such as lifting the arms or moving the legs, providing extra strength when needed. the device was designed to help elderly people by providing them extra strength and support for different body movements, all in an effort to encourage a more active lifestyle. exoskeleton technology has been around in various raw forms for some time, but engineers are still searching for ways to refine the technology for practical use. it's an area that holds promise within the realm of rehabilitative medicine, as engineers have made strides in devices for paraplegics hoping to walk again and assisting with rehabilitation, but, to date, the technology is not widely used for either purpose. shaoping bai, associate professor at aalborg university, however, has something else in mind: an exoskeleton designed to help older people who want to remain active in their later years. "there are some very advanced and very costly exoskeletons developed for the medical world," bai said in prepared remarks. "but that's not what we're working on. the product we'll end up with will be more something you put on for half an hour or an hour if you need to perform a task that you can no longer do." one of the group's biggest challenges when developing the suit involved designing it to be easy to use for their target audience—one that is not typically very receptive to technologies with new user interfaces. bai remarked that their group was careful to ensure that older users don't feel like the exoskeleton suit is stronger than they are, as this could make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. to ensure this aspect, researchers limited the performance of the electric motor in the suit to a maximum of 30–50%. they felt this kind of limited strength would go a long way toward ensuring that the user is in control of the technology, not the other way around. bai acknowledged that they want to stay away from the word robotic when describing the device, as it might deter some older users from ever trying the suit. "that's why we call it a tool instead of a robot," bai says. "Just the word 'robot' will keep more conservative people from trying it. we'd like people to think of it as a tool or as an aid instead." the current model has been in the works for 10 months, and the team expects to be able to present the first portable prototype within the next year. the hope is to have the device ready for the market within two years time, providing users with a fully functional suit that is both efficient and easy to use. —K.s. Tweaking 3-D Printers to Produce Live Heart Models a group of researchers from carnegie Mellon university (cMu) has developed a technique that can transform a range of consumer-level 3-d printers into bioprinters—producing 3-d models from soft materials that assemble into common tissue. the researchers believe the new method for 3-d bioprinting could be implemented on a range of consumer-grade 3-d printing machines through the use of open-source hardware and software. Most bioprinting machines cost over $100,000 and often times require specialized training to operate, while standard 3-d printers can cost as little as little as $1000. this new technique, known as "freeform reversible embedding of suspended Hydrogels," or fresH, would not only cut costs, but could also serve as a foundation for the printing of soft materials and tissue. "we demonstrate in the paper that fresH can be performed with consumer-grade 3-d printers costing as little as $400," says adam feinberg, leader of the study and associate professor of materials science and engineering and biomedical engineering at cMu. "to do this, we modified the standard 3-d printer by adding and creating a special extruder that uses a syringe to deposit gel- like materials." feinberg added that the designs to transform standard 3-d printers into bioprinters are going to be released under a creative commons license, which allows for anyone to download them and easily create their own 3-d bioprinter. "our vision is to dramatically increase the number of research labs using 3-d bioprinting for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine research," feinberg says. "by making the technology more capable, accessible, and affordable, this should spur innovation." as for their new method of printing with soft materials, feinberg and his associates believe the new technology solves the issue of working with soft, squishy materials. "the reason that soft things are challenging to 3-d print is that they deform easily," feinberg says. "3-d printing works by creating an object layer by layer, kind of like stacking sheets of paper. but for soft materials, if you print the first layer, it will sag and deform. it won't stay where you put it when you try to print the next layer on top, and then the whole process fails. our fresH technique solves this by printing soft materials (hydrogels) inside of another hydrogel." as for the details of their method, the group actually modeled their hydrogel support system off of Jello—which is essentially a mix of water and gelatin. gelatin is made from collagen, a common protein found in the human body, and is part of the extracellular matrix (ecM). the ecM serves as the material in the body that gives strength to our tissues, so naturally the group thought it could serve as a suitable support system for a bioprinter to create soft materials inside. "this way we can 3-d bioprint hydrogels, and even living cells, inside this gelatin hydrogel support," feinberg says. "the coolest part is that after we bioprint at room temperature, we can raise the temperature to match our body temperature (98.6°f), and the gelatin hydrogel support will melt. this enables us to easily remove the 3-d objects we have created." feinberg says that the goal of their study is to eventually print functional tissue. the study's focus is on bioprinting human heart muscle, with a long term goal of 3-d printing heart muscle as a patch to repair myocardial infarction—a goal he believes they could achieve in the next decade or so. but for now, he believes their technology could still have an impact on today's bioprinting efforts. "3-d bioprinting as a field has the potential to be transformative," feinberg says. "our technology provides unique advantages in 3-d printing scaffolds for tissue engineering applications, and we hope will be widely adopted and used in a range of therapeutic applications as well." —K.s. New Exoskeleton Suit Aims to Help the Elderly Remain Active A coronary artery structure can be 3-D printed using the novel technology. Researchers at the Aalborg University in Denmark have created a portable robot exoskeleton to assist the elderly, potentially enabling them to be active longer.

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