Researchers create a 3D printed neural implant

Published on September 23, 2020 by Aysha M.
3D printed neural implant

Research in the field of neural interfaces has existed since the 1970s, but innovation in the field has often been impeded by the high cost and long development time of producing prototypes. Additive manufacturing counteracts these limitations. As a result, it was possible for a research team consisting of engineers and neuroscientists from the Technical University of Dresden and the State University of St. Petersburg to develop a 3D printed neural implant prototype.

The 3D printed neural implant is a combination of biology and electronics. This combination is intended to connect the human brain with a computer. Potentially, it can be a rather effective method for treating neurological diseases such as paralysis, for instance. Through additive manufacturing processes, the implant is 3D printed layer by layer with biocompatible soft materials. This is not only much cheaper and faster, but also more adaptable. Ivan Minev, Professor of Intelligent Health Technologies at the Faculty of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering at the University of Sheffield, says: “The research we have started at TU Dresden and continuing here at Sheffield has demonstrated how 3D printing can be harnessed to produce prototype implants at speed and cost that hasn’t been done before, all whilst maintaining the standards needed to develop a useful deviceThe power of 3D printing means the prototype implants can be quickly changed and reproduced again as needed to help drive forward research and innovation in neural interfaces“.

The 3D printed neural implant has been tested in animals with spinal cord injuries and may have the potential to treat paralysis in humans. (Image credits: Sheffield)

With the study, the researchers proved that the implant can fit well on various neural surfaces such as the brain, but also the spinal cord, peripheral nerves and even muscles. In order for it to be used in paralysis treatments on humans, the implants must be capable of perceiving tiny electrical impulses and transmit them to the brain and nervous system. The researchers were able to achieve this result as the 3D printed neural implant succesfully communicated with the body areas.

To enable permanent implantation, the next step for researchers is to find out how the 3D printed neural implant will “behave” in the long term. The actual procedure of implantation in human patients will only be considered if the device does not change over a longer period of time. With this study, the researchers hope to have taken a first step towards personalized treatments in neurosurgery. Professor Minev added, “Patients have different anatomies and the implant has to be adapted to this and their particular clinical need. Maybe in the future the implant will be printed directly in the operating theatre while the patient is being prepared for surgery.

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