Medical innovation using 3D soft-material modeling technology
Today, most 3D modeling schemes use semi-hard materials like resin and rubber. Medical and healthcare fields, however, require softer materials.
Hydrogel is a promising soft material because of its high biocompatibility. As hydrogel has a particularly high water content, its texture and physical properties are very similar to those of the human body and associated organs. Expectations are high for its use in creating artificial organ models (such as viscera and blood vessels)
・Artificial organ models with realistic texture
3D modeling technology enables organs to be accurately reproduced using soft material.
Material softness can be adjusted, enabling the production of soft-material organ models which resemble a close likeness in terms of both texture and appearance. They are best used for preoperative simulations and training in medical institutes; the users experience a realistic feel as they, for example, remove an artificial tumor with a surgical knife and stitch up the material when a tumor has been removed. Soft-material organ models are a positive alternative to using animal organs.
・X-ray-free blood vessel models to keep doctors from exposure to radiation
In the model of a blood vessel, a hollow structure can be reproduced with the accuracy of the size of a microcatheter (0.5 mm or less) and because of its transparency, you can visually check the internal structure.
In the past, an X-ray was required to check the internal structure. The soft-material model allows X-ray-free catheter operation and simulation, protecting the doctor in training from unnecessary exposure.
NC gel is the best hydrogel for artificial organ model creation. Using dispersion technology, Ricoh has successfully made an ink out of the NC gel. Water, inorganic material and organic polymers are blended in order to reproduce complex models – optimizing hardness distribution, density distribution, and local placement of functional materials.
A 3D printer models things using two materials: the model material for the model itself, and the support material that maintains the shape of the model. Ricoh has developed an original support material (phase-change type) that matches the NC gel (model material). By combining the two materials, a 3D printer directly model things using the lamination process.
In material jetting, a layer is formed by hardening the discharged droplets using UV irradiation. The process is repeated for lamination. By applying this method, Ricoh has successfully produced blood vessel models with a micro hollow structure, which was difficult with previously used methods.
By combining the strengths of proprietary material development technology and inkjet-based 3D modeling technology, Ricoh aims to make a greater contribution to the medical field.
*Part of the technological development is a joint effort with the Medical Schools of Yokohama City University and Nagoya University.