High-Tech Printed Devices Could Replace Painful Injections

4D printed microneedles developed by Rutgers University researchers mimic the way parasites and bees adhere to human tissue.

Even the toughest among us don’t like having to get injections at the doctor to receive medications or give blood samples. In the future this painful process may be eliminated may thanks to new 4D-printing technology from engineers at Rutgers University.

4D printing, microneedles, Rutgers University, mimic parasites
Researchers at Rutgers University used 4D printing to print a microneedle array that has backward-facing barbs that interlock with tissue when inserted, enhancing adhesion. They believe their invention can be used to replace painful injections. (Image source: Riddish Morde)

A team there has developed tiny needles that mimic parasites using this type of printing technique, which takes 3D printing one step further by enabling for printed materials to be programmed to change after printing, said Howon Lee, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Rutgers.

Lee and his colleagues developed a microneedle array with backward-facing barbs that interlock with tissue when inserted, which enhances their adhesion, he said.

"We think our 4-D-printed microneedle array will allow for more robust and sustained use of minimally invasive, pain-free and easy-to-use microneedles for delivering drugs, healing wounds, biosensing and other soft tissue applications," Lee said.

Mimicking Nature to Create Adhesion

Indeed, typically people are stuck with hypodermic needles for injections, but this causes pain and can scar skin, as well as pose a risk of infection. For people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, this can mean being stuck with needles multiple times a day, which exacerbates the pain and risk.

To solve this problem, doctors are turning to microneedles, or miniaturized version of needles that are less invasive and minimize some of the pain and risks involved in typical infections. The challenge with using these needles has been that they don’t adhere well to human tissue.

The Rutgers team turned to inspiration from nature to remedy this issue, Lee said. Organisms such as parasites, honeybees and porcupines all have barb-like appendages that can adhere to tissue. Learning from this lead, researchers developed a microneedle that interlocks with tissue when inserted to bolster its adhesion.

Researchers combined a micro 3D-printing technique and a 4D-printing approach to create backward-facing barbs on a microneedle. They published a paper detailing their design and technique in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

The team tested the printed microneedles using chicken muscle tissue as a model, Lee said. In experiments, the microneedle’s tissue adhesion was 18 times stronger than with a barbless microneedle.

Researchers aim for their solution to be used applications for drug delivery, collection of bio-fluids, and biosensing.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

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