3D Printed Sugar Stents Could Help Doctors in Operating Room

Feb. 5, 2019, 6:45 a.m. ·

A look at the different stents that will be used during surgical operations. (Photo courtesy UNL Communications)

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We've often been told about the ills of sugar, but new research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln attempts to use sugar stents in medical procedures that use vascular anastomosis -- connecting two blood vessels or arteries during operations like organ transplant and plastic surgery. Doctors have long turned to glues, sutures and even staples in connecting blood vessels. A Nebraska researcher hopes to use something naturally found in our bodies instead. Brandon McDermott of NET News talked with assistant professor Ali Tamayol about the research.

Brandon McDermott, NET News: Vascular anastomosis may sound odd, but it's actually pretty common in surgical procedures, correct?

Ali Tamayol, Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical & Materials Engineering at UNL: Well that's correct. It's kind of a routine part of, any, or many surgical procedures like reconstructive surgeries, transplants, etc. And depending on the size of the vessel that should be connected, typically it can be considered regular anastomosis and sometimes if the vessels are pretty small and they call it micro-vascular anastomosis.

A close look at a prototype of the stents. (Photo courtesy UNL Communications)

McDermott: In speaking of these blood vessels you created a 3D printed, sugar based stent that's going to help connect some of these blood vessels in the operating room for doctors?

Tamayol: That's correct, you know as I mentioned especially with microvascular anastomosis, it's not easy to put vessels next to each other and suture them and try to ensure they are kept at the right place. The practice right now, is that they clamp the vessels – so basically they interrupt the flow of blood – and they bring them next to each other and they have to suture the sides one-by-one and typically to reinforce it, they use surgical glues or sealants.

As of right now everything is clamped and the middle part which is going to be sutured is kind of free standing. There's a lot of challenge in a way that you can pass your sutures properly at the right position. Imagine if you are suturing vessels with one millimeter in diameter or a couple millimeters in diameter – that's going to be extremely, extremely challenging. What we tried to do, was to create the stent in a way that it's sticky. So, basically, it's going to hold the vessels in place and then they can easily and comfortably perform the suturing.

We imagine that potentially it can be done in a way that you can apply the sealant or proper glue – let it sit and let it set – in a way that's going to gain its ultimate mechanical strength and then you can remove the clumps, blood flow is going to wash the stent away or dissolve the stent away.

McDermott: But why sugar though? Why does using sugar in this help?

Another close-up look at a prototype of the new sugar-based stent. (Photo courtesy UNL Communications)

Tamayol: It's a good question. So, typically when we are talking about biomedical applications we try to go with the best material or the most compatible material. So sugar is something that we eat every day, it's also inside our blood. So we thought that maybe that's going to be a naturalistic solution because there's nothing strange about it.

McDermott: Printing these stents don't have to be necessarily ordered from a manufacturer, they can actually be printed right in the operating room?

Tamayol: That's actually one of the benefits of 3D printings or 3D printing technologies. In a way, you can print them on the site and also you can print them the way that it's going to fit the patient that's being operated on. That’s one of the benefits that 3D printing brings to medicine. We try to get benefits from that and engineer our material and also the process in a way that can be done right at the site of the surgery.

McDermott: Say a doctor realizes in the operating room this patient needs a stent, we need one 3D printed. How long would that process take?

Tamayol: So the way that works is that they have a transplant they want to place it in and it should be connected to vessels of the patient. Sometimes even the size is not the exact match, so they figure out and do the measurements. Then they can feed the data to the program and then in 2 or 3 minutes they're going to have the sugar printed or stent printed.

McDermott: That's really kind of changing the game of things in the operating room for doctors?

Tamayol: That's part of our job as biomedical engineers is to try to ensure that when doctors are going to the OR, that they have the best tools to be able to save the patients.

McDermott: In developing this do you think that this can be put to use pretty quickly going forward?

Tamayol: From now on, we have to look into the animal procedures. So obviously we have to start using it in surgical procedures – at least in animals, small and large animals, to ensure that is going to work that way that we planned it. Once it's verified, it has a good potential to go to clinical practice.

McDermott: It's got a long way out before this can be put into humans, but yet this is pretty exciting?

Tamayol: The fact that we are using materials that are already FDA approved – we eat them, we even have them in our body, so it makes the translation to clinical research very, very easy.