Sensors 3D printed directly on lungs, heart could be used with surgical robots to diagnose, monitor disease

Michael McAlpine and University of Minnesota colleagues used 3D printing and motion capture technology to print electronic sensors directly on organs that are expanding and contracting, such as the heart and lungs. This could be used to diagnose and monitor the lungs of patients with COVID-19.

This builds on the team’s technique which enabled the printing of electronics directly on the skin of a hand that moved left to right or rotated.

They used a balloon-like surface and a specialized 3D printer, with motion capture tracking markers to help the 3D printer adapt its printing path to the expansion and contraction movements on the surface. An animal lung in the lab was artificially inflated and a soft hydrogel-based sensor was printed directly on the surface.

According to McAlpine, “the broader idea behind this research, is that this is a big step forward to the goal of combining 3D printing technology with surgical robots. In the future, 3D printing will not be just about printing but instead be part of a larger autonomous robotic system. This could be important for diseases like COVID-19 where health care providers are at risk when treating patients.”