Now MIT engineers have designed pliable, 3-D-printed mesh materials whose flexibility and toughness they can tune to emulate and support softer tissues such as muscles and tendons. They can tailor the intricate structures in each mesh, and they envision the tough yet stretchy fabric-like material being used as personalized, wearable supports, including ankle or knee braces, and even implantable devices, such as hernia meshes, that better match to a person's body.
As a demonstration, the team printed a flexible mesh for use in an ankle brace. They tailored the mesh's structure to prevent the ankle from turning inward -- a common cause of injury -- while allowing the joint to move freely in other directions. The researchers also fabricated a knee brace design that could conform to the knee even as it bends. And, they produced a glove with a 3-D-printed mesh sewn into its top surface, which conforms to a wearer's knuckles, providing resistance against involuntary clenching that can occur following a stroke.
Work - Properties - Geometries - Tissues - Pattinson
"This work is new in that it focuses on the mechanical properties and geometries required to support soft tissues," says Sebastian Pattinson, who conducted the research as a postdoc at MIT.
Pattinson, now on the faculty at Cambridge University, is the lead author of a study published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials. His MIT co-authors include Meghan Huber, Sanha Kim, Jongwoo Lee, Sarah Grunsfeld, Ricardo Roberts, Gregory Dreifus, Christoph Meier, and Lei Liu, as well as Sun Jae Professor in Mechanical Engineering Neville Hogan and associate professor of mechanical engineering A. John Hart.
Team - Meshes - Nature - Fabrics
The team's flexible meshes were inspired by the pliable, conformable nature of fabrics.
"3-D-printed clothing and devices tend to be very bulky," Pattinson says. "We were trying to think of how we can make 3-D-printed constructs more flexible and comfortable, like textiles and fabrics."
Pattinson - Inspiration
Pattinson found further inspiration...
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