Engineers Are Using 3D Printers to Create Origami-Inspired Surgical Tools


Technology is kind of like paper. You can only fold a piece of paper in half so many times; likewise, there’s a limit to how small technology can get—unless you combine the two ideas. Engineers at Brigham Young University have devised origami-inspired surgical tools that unfold and expand inside the body. The team described their methods this week in the journal Mechanical Sciences.

"The whole concept is to make smaller and smaller incisions," mechanical engineer Larry Howell said in a press statement. "To that end, we're creating devices that can be inserted into a tiny incision and then deployed inside the body to carry out a specific surgical function." 

The team had previously worked with NASA. "Those who design spacecraft want their products to be small and compact because space is at a premium on a spacecraft, but once you get in space, they want those same products to be large, such as solar arrays or antennas," co-author Spencer Magleby said in the press statement. "There's a similar idea here: We'd like something to get quite small to go through the incision, but once it's inside, we'd like it to get much larger."

"These small instruments will allow for a whole new range of surgeries to be performed—hopefully one day manipulating things as small as nerves," Magleby continued. "The origami-inspired ideas really help us to see how to make things smaller and smaller and to make them simpler and simpler."

For more on these remarkably tiny tools—and to see them in action—check out the video from Brigham Young above.

Header image from YouTube // Brigham Young University