Nottingham team to bring additive manufacturing into medtech

Researchers at Nottingham University are to develop bespoke medtech devices via additive manufacturing in a project funded by the EPSRC.


The team will use the £6m grant to develop a toolkit for 3D printing that will act as an instruction manual to improve the pathway from research through to development and clinical adoption.

A need for personalised, tailored and effective medtech devices has been identified, but the materials have not been available, product development is arduous and the route to market is long.

Now, Nottingham’s Centre for Additive Manufacturing is addressing this problem by helping to unlock a bottleneck that prevents new innovative engineering entering the NHS. 

Ricky Wildman, Professor in Chemical Engineering at Nottingham University said: “One clear bottleneck in realising medtech innovation - particularly innovation involving additive manufacturing - is that material choices are limited. Expanding our palette is challenging because we don’t have great tools to predict the performance of materials yet, including whether a material is ‘3D printable’. For medtech, we have the extra complication of needing a full understanding in order to meet regulations.”


Wildman continued: “This toolkit will be designed to relieve this bottleneck, integrating a combination of experimental screening, computational models, and machine learning to smooth the path from ‘Here is my product idea’ to ‘What materials do I need and how to I put them together?’, and finally, ‘This design is the most optimal’. The toolkit enables users to manufacture, guide and speed up all the steps that are needed to be able to put together a device or therapy.”

To assemble the toolkit the team will consider three medtech-related devices with the potential to change their respective fields. Wildman said the first is a ‘biopill’ where 4D printing or responsive polymers will be used to create triggerable peptide releasing tablets that will improve the chances of delivering complex biomacromolecule therapeutics orally.

“At the moment, such therapeutics either need to be delivered in very high doses or intravenously, neither of which are very helpful,” said Wildman.

A second device is an ‘intestinal patch’ that will deliver cells and tissue for repair of intestinal lining damaged by diseases such as Crohn’s.

“These chronic diseases have poor outcomes, but if we were able to replicate the tissues and implant them then we have a chance of relieving the suffering of tens or hundreds of thousands of people per year. This requires multimaterial, graded structures with complex shapes at cell length scales – perfect for additive manufacturing. However, again, despite many years of effort the right materials are not available, and we need to find materials that work and can be used in 3D printing.”

Finally, the team will look at more efficient ways of manufacturing medicines by building mini enzyme based ‘reactors’ that can be dialled to specific needs, and efficiently produce medicines or their intermediates at high yield and high specificity, a challenge that Wildman said is difficult to achieve with current technology.