Engineers at Temple University in Philadelphia take inspiration from the insect kingdom for their 3D printed surgical needle design; the stinger of the humble honeybee.
While exploring a new concept for a 3D printed surgical needle at Temple University in Philadelphia, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Parsaoran Hutapea and PhD candidate Mohammad Sahlabadi cast their net far and wide.
“I told (Sahlabadi) we should try to look at nature, such as mosquitos, honeybees, wasps,” says Hutapea, who’s been using 3D printing technology to develop surgical needles since 2011 with the support of a US Department of Defense grant.
“We brought some honeybees into the lab, and took out and inspected their stingers using a microscope. The way honeybees sting human skin is very attractive for what we’re trying to develop, because, due mainly to the stinger’s barbs, it goes relatively smoothly straight through the skin and into the tissue.”
In developing the surgical needles — fabricated from a blend of polymers — Hutapea and Sahlabadi hope to create more precise instruments that can also reduce tissue damage.
Using the honey bee stingers as a template, they devised a design with small barbs carved into the needle. These barbs reduce the insertion and extraction forces of the needle, which further minimizes damage to tissue.
“Generally, a surgical needle will curve due to its tip design when inserted into tissue. The needle deviates from its planned path on the way to the target, such as a cancerous tissue or tumor. With this shape, the curve is limited—it makes it easier to control in a robotics setting,” explains Hutapea.
“It’s critical, because if the needle curves, you miss the target.”
Honey Bee Surgical Needle is More Precise, Less Invasive
The 3D printed surgical needle isn’t yet usable in practice, however. Both the honey bee design and 3D printing technology used will require further refinement. This is especially the case to make metal needles with sub-millimeter size and high aspect ratio.
But eventually the goal is to develop a Honey Bee surgical needle that is usable in practice, and have them approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Thereafter, they can be used to improve minimally invasive surgical procedures.
“The big question is whether we can manufacture 3D printed metal needles, and that technology is not here yet,” says Hutapea.
“In the meantime, we are currently developing a compromise by looking at a manufacturing method to develop a hybrid metal-polymer needle. The hope is that in two to three years, we have that technology.”
The surgical needles developed by Hutapea and Sahlabadi are currently on display at the Franklin Institute as part of a 3D printing exhibit.
The pair have also published articles on their needle design, including the journals Minimally Invasive Therapy and Allied Technologies and Bioinspiration & Biomimetics. No honey bees were harmed in this production.
Source: Temple University