Simply Standing up, doing sports, or just laughing, it's extremely unpleasant whenever urine suddenly leaks uncontrollably. Colloquially referred to as a 'weak bladder', it's known as Stress Urinary Incontinence in medical terms. Although about one in three women suffers from uncontrolled urine leakage, incontinence is still taboo. Initially merely a physical problem, it also quickly weighs on the soul. For fear of unpleasant situations, those affected often withdraw and avoid social activities with families and friends. Urine Sample
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3D Printed Pessaries May Relieve the Burden

The cause is usually a weak muscular pelvic floor. It holds the pelvic organs in position and supports the bladder sphincter. Hormonal changes (e.g., menopause), obesity, and pregnancy affect the elasticity and support function of the muscles. In most cases, incontinence is treatable, e.g.,  pelvic floor training, medication, or vaginal pessaries. The latter increases the pressure on the urethra and relieves the suffering mechanically. Anatomical conditions vary from woman to woman, and the fit affects therapeutic success. However, pessaries are still manufactured in a few standard sizes using outdated but cheap extrusion and injection molding processes. That could soon change thanks to a novel approach developed by the Research Center Pharmaceutical Engineering (RCPE), a research center owned by Graz University of Technology, Karl Franzens University, and Joanneum Research.

"3D printing is ideal. It allows us to tailor individual pessaries for each patient rapidly. Additionally, by adding an active ingredient, we can combine mechanical and drug treatment into one holistic approach," says Dr. Simone Eder, head of the research project. After an ultrasound examination of the pelvic floor or magnetic resonance imaging, printing can start immediately. "In this way, we take the anatomical characteristics into account and design the perfect pessary right away," Eder explains the advantages of the process. The manufacturing process is made possible by innovative basic materials. Instead of the usual silicone, the researchers at the RCPE use thermoplastic elastomers based on polyester.

Austrian Technology Leadership & Strong International Partners

Austria is increasingly developing into a competence cluster for medical 3D printing. With the University of Leoben and the printing manufacturer HAGE3D, two key partners are located in Austria. The University of Zagreb completes the research consortium. The advantages of 3D printing are obvious to Dr. Martin Spörk, Scientific Lead for Manufacturing Technologies and Process Science at RCPE: "3D printing offers almost complete freedom in the design of internal and external structures, in the choice of materials and mechanical properties. WE can control drug delivery with extreme precision and therefore ensure therapeutic success," he explains. Production becomes not only potentially more personalized but also more flexible/local and cost-efficient. The lack of need for expensive tools, the elimination of complex process steps, and the efficient use of materials could enable ecological and economic advantages. 

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