MIT 3D-printing technique could produce highly customized ankle braces, hernia mesh

A new 3D-printed material is significantly more flexible than others previously used to create medical devices, meaning it could be used to create wearable supports and implantable devices that emulate and support softer body tissues.

In a study published June 19 in Advanced Functional Materials, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge used the tough yet stretchy mesh to create an ankle brace that prevents the ankle from turning inward while allowing the joint to move otherwise freely; a knee brace that conforms to the knee as it bends; and a glove that provides resistance against post-stroke involuntary clenching.

The scientists were inspired by the flexibility and comfort of textiles and fabrics, and the structure of collagen. They 3D-printed the mesh for the braces with a wavy pattern similar to the molecular structure of collagen, allowing it to mimic soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons and muscles.

As described in the study, they also incorporated stronger stainless steel fibers into the mesh, producing a material that was still conformable but somewhat stiffer and could thus be used to create implantable devices such as hernia mesh and even cardiovascular devices such as stents.

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