Research Article: Low cost additive manufacturing of microneedle masters

Date Published: February 4, 2019

Publisher: Springer International Publishing

Author(s): Ashley R. Johnson, Adam T. Procopio.


Microneedle patches are arrays of tiny needles that painlessly pierce the skin to deliver medication into the body. Biocompatible microneedles are usually fabricated via molding of a master structure. Microfabrication techniques used for fabricating these master structures are costly, time intensive, and require extensive expertise to control the structure’s geometry of the structure, despite evidence that microneedle geometry is a key design parameter. Here, a commercially available 3D printer is utilized, for the first time, to quickly and easily manufacture microneedle masters.

Because commercially available 3D printers are not typically used for micron-scale fabrication, the influence of three different sources of error- stair-stepping, aliasing, and light abberations- on the resulting structure is investigated. A custom Matlab code is written to control the light intensity projected off of each individual micromirror (through grayscale) at a given time. The effect of the layer height, the number of layers, and grayscale on the sharpness, surface texture, and dimensional fidelity of the final structure is described.

The Autodesk Ember is successfully utilized to fabricate sharp microneedles with a tip radius of approximately 15 μm in less than 30 min per patch (as compared to weeks to months for existing approaches). Utilization of grayscale improves surface texture and sharpness, and dimensional fidelity within ±5% of desired dimensions is achieved.

The described 3D printing technique enables investigators to accurately fabricate microneedles within minutes at low cost. Rapid, iterative optimization of microneedle geometry through 3D printing will accelerate microneedle research through improved understanding of the relationship between microneedle structure and function.

The online version of this article (10.1186/s41205-019-0039-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

Partial Text

Microneedles are arrays of sub-millimeter sized needles that painlessly pierce the outer layer of the skin to deliver medicine into the body [1–3]. Microneedles are particularly useful for the delivery of molecules that cannot be delivered orally, such as proteins, peptides, and molecules with poor solubility or permeability [1–3]. Because drug delivery using pain free microneedles is preferred by patients as compared to hypodermic needles, microneedle based delivery may be an attractive commercial product exhibiting improved patient compliance, particularly for indications requiring frequent injections, such as insulin or hormone therapies [4, 5].

In summary, we demonstrate a simple and low cost method for fabricating microneedle masters using a desktop 3D printer. The printer’s default settings introduce defects into the fabricated microneedles, but proper optimization using a combination of reducing layer height, employing a high quality antialiasing algorithm, and rescaling the input images enables high quality microneedles to be produced. The microneedles demonstrate sharp tip radii with fabrication times less than one hour. Further, we demonstrate that the height, width and spacing of these microneedle masters can be easily adjusted to optimize microneedle design. Though only one photopolymerizable resin was used in this work, we anticipate that the approaches outlined in this article would be generalizable to other 3D printing resins [14]. Microneedle masters produced using this technique could also be combined with standard silicone micromolding approaches to fabricate microneedles from desired non-photopolymerizable materials, such as water soluble or biodegradable polymers mixed with therapeutic agents. We anticipate that this approach will lower the barrier to entry into the microneedle field for researchers with little existing equipment or a modest background in microfabrication and provide an easy way to adjust key microneedle parameters, such as size, aspect ratio, and spacing.




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