Researchers at Mizzou have put their trust in Nanoscribe’s Quantum X Shape 3D printer to create microfluidic filters that will allow doctors to recover cancer cells from patients’ blood without damaging the cells. The researchers spent eight years trying to figure out how to make a complex filter, and they can now do so easily with the newly acquired 3D printer.
“We have been working to fabricate a new design since 2021, and this printer showed that it can accomplish that in 20 seconds during a demonstration.”– Elliott Leinauer, a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering
Mizzou Engineering to leverage Quantum X Shape 3D Printer
The Quantum X Shape from Nanoscribe, a Bico company, was purchased with nearly $1 million from a U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) grant. It uses a process called two-photon lithography to rapidly cure a liquid resin, making it ideal for rapid prototyping and wafer-scale processing of any 3D shape. It is the market’s fastest and most accurate 3D printer for high-end microfabrication tasks.
Mizzou Engineering is one of only a few organizations in the United States to have the printer, and one of fewer than 100 worldwide.
“The significance of the Nanoscribe printer is that it can print at resolutions smaller than the fundamental length scale of many interesting engineering problems, including biological cells and even the wavelength of light. Simultaneously, it can fabricate patterns up to 3 inches in diameter, making it a very robust tool for many applications.”– Matt Maschmann, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering
According to Maschmann, who is also co-director of the MU Materials Science & Engineering Institute, these applications range from life sciences to microelectronics to advanced optics for security and defense.
“This device is exciting for our research on new meta-materials for advanced optics that were designed by and for artificial intelligence,” says Professor Derek Anderson, principal investigator of the ERDC grant. We’ve done a lot of computational and simulation work, and this device allows us to make prototypes to validate, compare, and advance our research.”
Game-changer for Extracting Cancer Cells
The printer is a game changer for Leinauer. Leinauer’s research is focused on developing a precise method for doctors to extract live cancer cells from a simple blood draw. This is significant because it allows for more customised methods of determining the best treatment. Oncologists currently recommend chemotherapy, radiation, and other cancer treatments based on previous success.
Instead, being able to study a patient’s metastasizing cancer cells would allow doctors to test and recommend the best treatment based on that patient’s unique needs.
“Right now, when you try to extract cancer cells, they get damaged or die during the process. We use a fabrication processes called photolithography to develop a filter that can capture the cancer cells. This fabrication process is the act of transferring micro/nano-scale geometric patterns from a photomask to a silicon wafer.”– Elliott Leinauer, a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering
The maze-like pattern of the filter traps cancer cells, which are typically larger than most other cells. However, there was no way to get them out of their filter without causing damage until now.
Leinauer added, “The idea is that you use external loads to alter the geometry of the channels, converting this maze-like pattern into something more simplistic, which creates these fluidic highways for captured cells to escape the filter easily. It’s a complex design, and fabrication was a significant barrier. This printer fixes that. It integrates photolithography fabrication methods with 3D printing of geometric designs at speeds and accuracy never before possible.”
Because it can pattern circuits at the microlevel, Maschmann envisions using the Quantum X Shape for current research on semiconductor device patterning. The printer can also generate tiny geometrical designs, allowing him and his colleagues to grow carbon nanotube films in specific patterns.
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