Study Finds Natural Compound Can Be Used for 3-D Printing of Medical Implants

Researchers from North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Laser Zentrum Hannover have worked together to discover a natural compound which can be used in the 3D printing process of creating medical implants out of non-toxic polymers. The compound goes by the name riboflavin, but is better known as vitamin B2.


“This opens the door to a much wider range of biocompatible implant materials, which can be used to develop customized implant designs using 3-D printing technology,” says Dr. Roger Narayan, senior author of a paper describing the work and a professor in the joint biomedical engineering department at NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill.

3D printing has a huge potential in a number of fields, and especially in medicine – printing prosthetics, artificial tissues, even bacteria can save countless lives, and the possibilities are endless. This time, researchers wanted to find a way to improve a 3-D printing technique called two-photon polymerization, which is very useful for small objects with detailed features – such as “scaffolds for tissue engineering, microneedles or other implantable drug-delivery devices”.

The technique doesn’t work like classical 3D printing – instead you manipulate a photoreactive liquid into any shape you want; in this case, photoreactive means that when exposed to light, the liquid becomes solid, allowing researchers to mold it into any desired form. However, most photoreactive substances are toxic, which is not something you want when you’re trying to develop medical implants.

But now researchers have determined that riboflavin can be mixed with a precursor material to make it photoreactive – and riboflavin is both nontoxic and biocompatible – it’s a vitamin found in pretty much everything. There you have it – 3D printing, revolutionizing yet another field of medicine.

Scientific reference:  “Two-photon polymerization of polyethylene glycol diacrylate scaffolds with riboflavin and triethanolamine used as a water-soluble photoiniator,”  published online in Regenerative Medicine.

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