With an FFF 3D printer researchers at the University of Texas at
Dallas (UT Dallas) now have a new low-cost method of
making microneedle arrays – a small syringe-alternative patch
for administering drugs.
The method combines a commercially available desktop 3D printer
with a chemical etching technique. It enables the creation of
ultra-fine microscopic pins in a range of medical materials
currently unavailable to
high-res 3D printing methods.
Microneedle patches alleviate the pain and safety risks
associated with the traditional method of delivering drugs
using a syringe. They also have a longer shelf life than drugs
made as injectable liquids. For these reasons, microneedles
have become an integral part of new medical research, including
efforts at Georgia Institute
of Technology and Emory University to
use the arrays as an alternative to flu vaccinations.
The primary breakthrough in the UT Dallas research is the
manufacture of skin-piercing microneedles using an FDA approved
biomaterial that dissolves over time.
Achieving these parameters at a low-cost would have been
incredibly challenging with any other 3D printing technique.
Applying commercial FFF in medicine
The UT Dallas team’s manufacturing method is a five step
process that starts with FFF using a Lulzbot TAZ 5 3D printer.
It takes 40 minutes on average to make a batch of 15
The arrays are then left to soak in a chemical solution for 9
hours which etches the surface, and carves the microneedles to
a fine point between 1 and 55 μm wide.
In the penulitmate step, the microneedles are washed. Then they
can be loaded with a drug for application in the skin.
In this case, UT Dallas demonstrated the ability to apply a
fluorescent dye under the skin using the 3D printed mironeedle
A promising alternative in medicine
In other research, 3D printing has presented the potential for
new ways of treating cancer, and controlling
the release of multiple drugs through a single vaccination.
In summary of UT Dallas’ study, conclusions state, “we have
developed a new chemical etching method that improves the
feature size resolution of FDM printed materials allowing for
the fabrication of biocompatible [microneedles]capable of
penetrating the outer layers of skin and delivering a model
Additionally, “Using our etching method […] biocompatible
polyesters—which currently cannot be used with higher
resolution printing techniques such as SLA— could now be
applied in [microneedle]fabrication.”
3D Printed Polymer Microneedles for Transdermal Drug
Delivery” is co-authored by Michael A. Luzuriaga,
Danielle R. Berry, John C. Reagan, Ronald A. Smaldone and
Jeremiah J. Gassensmith. The full paper can be accessed online
in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s data
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Featured image shows (a,c) 3D printed and (b, d) chemically
etched microneedle arrays. Image via ChemRxiv