Electrospinning is a maturing manufacturing technology that is already being used in medicine to produce unusual materials with novel properties. It involves melting a polymer and extruding it through a narrow nozzle, while an electric field is used to pull and spin the polymer into a very fine mesh. When a biocompatible polymer is used, the printed materials may be applicable for medical applications, as the resulting mesh has an extremely large surface area. The fibers can also have drugs attached to them, resulting in active meshes with interesting therapeutic properties.
It would be great to deposit such fiber meshes directly onto wounds. Different wound sizes could be treated with custom bandages and drugs embedded within the meshes could then penetrate deep into the wound to provide long term treatment. The problem is that the electric field involved in conventional electrospinning is too powerful and will simply shock the patient.
Now, engineers at the Montana Technological University have created an electrospinning device, for which the electric field is contained in a small volume so that the fibers can be shot directly onto skin. The team’s electrostatic and air driven device works in a similar manner to spray painting, but the results are very different since a 3D mesh is produced.
“In spray painting, pressurized gas forces direct particles toward a surface, creating a sort of deposited material,” said author Lane Huston, a mechanical engineering graduate student at Montana Tech, in a press release. “Like spray painting, this electrostatic and air driven device is used by directing its nozzle at the desired surface during operation, causing a fiber mat to be deposited onto that surface.”
Any size and shape of wound can be covered with the electrospun fibers and because the fibers are hydrophilic, they stick to any kind of moist surface, including wounds and skin.
So far, the technology has been tested on the incised skin of pigs and on a gloved hand of one of the researchers. “The bandage material, as well as the drug used, can be chosen on demand as the situation warrants, making modular and adaptable drug delivery accessible in remote locations,” Huston added.
While the new electrospinning device was developed for biomedical applications, it can certainly be used for other purposes where it’s best to keep the electric field contained.
Study in Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology B: Combined electrostatic and air driven electrospinning for biomedical applications
Flashbacks: Electrospinning Gun Protects Wounds with Nanofiber Mesh; Coaxial Electrospinning Creates Novel Contraceptive, Other Medical Devices; Electrospun Nanofibers as Orthopedic Scaffolds Help Bones Heal, New Implants Settle In; Surgical Biodegradable Nanofibers as Surgical Sealant, Hemostatic, Buttress for Tissue Repair