Honeybees’ stingers inspire the creation of 3D printed surgical needles

In their search of methods to improve surgical needles, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Parsaoran Hutapea and PhD candidate Mohammad Sahlabadi have been inspired by honeybees. Unexpected, right?

Associate Professor Parsaoran Hutapea, left, and PhD candidate Mohammad Sahlabadi

The issue of conventional surgical needles

In general, a surgical needle curves because of its tip design when it is inserted into tissue. It therefore turns away from its planned path to reach the target.

Well, you may be surprised to learn that, the two researchers actually pay attention to the fact that honeybees are very attracted to our body and their stinger’s barbs go “relatively smoothly straight through the skin and into the tissue.”

They therefore develop surgical needles from a blend of polymers. Their goal was to create instruments that can decrease tissue damage while increasing precision. With the help of the bees’ stingers, they devised a design with small barbs (notches) carved into the needle. “The notches, Sahlabadi explained, decrease the needles’ insertion and extraction forces, helping to further minimize damage to tissue.

A 3-D printed needle is inserted into gel that simulates human tissue so researchers can measure its accuracy and trajectory. (PHOTO: Ryan S. Brandenberg)

However, it should be noted that the 3D-printed needles cannot yet be used in practice. Hutapea explained that the needles and 3-D printing technology itself (especially for metal needles with submillimeter size and high aspect ratio—small and long) are still being developed.

In the meantime, the aim will be to develop similar needles usable in practice and have them approved by the Food and Drug Administration so that they can be used to improve minimally invasive surgical procedures.

For those who are afraid of needles, the fact that this concept has been 3D printed will certainly not change anything to their fear. 🙂

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