3D-Printed Sugar-Based Stent to Aid Vascular Surgery
Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have developed a 3D-printed stent that can aid surgeons in stitching small arteries together. The small tube sits between the open ends of the artery and helps to hold them in place during stitching. The device is 3D-printed using a sugar-based material, meaning that it dissolves and disappears within minutes after the artery has been sealed.
At present, it is a challenge for surgeons to join the ends of small clipped arteries. However, the procedure is vital in a variety of surgeries, from organ transplants to reconstructive surgeries. This fiddly task takes time and concentration, and if done incorrectly, whereby the suture threads through both the top and bottom wall of the artery, it can result in a blockage.
“One of the plastic surgeons told us about the challenges of this kind of microsurgery – how time-consuming it is, how skill-dependent it is,” said Ali Tamayol, a researcher involved in the latest study.
This team of researchers set out to design a simple tool to help surgeons to perform this vital procedure. Their solution is a resorbable 3D-printed stent which can greatly simplify and expedite the process. The idea is simple – the surgeon can insert the small tube into both open ends of the artery, where it sticks to the interior vessel surface, helping to hold to the artery together during the stitching process. However, the device is completely resorbable, and dissolves within minutes once the artery has been sealed.
To achieve these specific properties, the researchers used a sucrose-based material, which not only dissolves in the bloodstream, but also helps to reduce the chance of dangerous blood clots. The research team was able to formulate the sugar mix so that it could be 3D-printed. This means that they can produce stents in a range of sizes for individual patients and so that the devices fit a range of different arteries.
So far, they have tested the stent in a tubing rig on the lab bench, designed to mimic an artery that needed to be sutured, and in pig arteries. It took a surgeon just five minutes to suture the arteries when using the stent, compared to 15 minutes using conventional surgical techniques, and the sutured arteries did not leak. In the future, the researchers hope that such stents could be custom printed for individual patients in hospitals around the world.