Three-dimensional bioprinting forebodes a bright future for implantable medical device industry

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Yuan Yuyu, Chairperson of Medprin Regenerative Medical Technologies Co. Ltd., introduces the company's products on February 3, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

Imagine for a second: during intricate brain surgery, doctors attach a patch of meninges produced by a 3D printer to repair the damaged part of the brain. The stuff of dreams, somehow, was turned into a reality by a Guangdong-based company.

The product was developed by Medprin Regenerative Medical Technologies Co. Ltd. which focuses on the manufacturing and developing of implantable medical devices made from biomaterials in combination with synthetic materials.

With a thickness of only 0.2 mm, the 3D-printed meninges looks like a piece of ordinary tissue paper but is in fact a tissue with extraordinary qualities. "Brain surgery incisions used to be covered with a membrane made from animal-sourced materials, which exposes patients to risks of disease transmission. It also takes a long time for animal tissue to fully integrate into a patient's own tissue, prolonging the recovery process," Yuan Yuyu, Chairperson of Medprin, told China Daily.

"As we continue to develop, we hope more patients will get to enjoy high-quality and inexpensive products," Yuan said.

Lifesaving innovation

Based in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, Yuan co-founded Medprin in 2008, after he graduated with a doctoral degree in bioengineering.

Back then, implantable medical device development was a new field in China—the world, even. "Many people had rarely heard of the technology, so when I launched a business focused on creating products with this technology, most people just didn't understand," Yuan said.

Starting such a business proved difficult indeed. Yuan recalled how, in the earliest stages, almost all funding went to research and development, and life was hard, very hard. Once, after conducting experiments for 12 hours nonstop, Yuan and several of his colleagues left work in the early morning, had a bowl of porridge at a nearby fast food eatery, and then went straight back to the task at hand.

Achieving innovation in the field of medical devices can be an especially laborious undertaking. The development process of implantable medical devices is an extensive one—it takes years to move from the initial stage to design finalization, animal experiments, clinical trials, market approval, etc. And that doesn't include the time spent trying to break into the market.

Courtesy of less than one decade of relentless efforts, Yuan and his team developed the world's first 3D-printed biological meninges: ReDura. It constitutes a replica of tissue covering the brain and is already applied in operating theaters around the world.

When patients undergo brain surgery, doctors usually first need to cut through a layer of protective tissue between the skull and the brain. After the operation, they then patch the area in question using an artificial graft and close it all up in layers.

According to, a website that provides the latest news on 3D-printing technology and 3D printers, while these artificial grafts have already been widely and successfully used in brain surgeries everywhere, they run the risk of disrupting a patient's life.

Fortunately, ReDura, resembling the existing membrane and with an outstanding repairing effect, can avoid such problems. The patient's cells will actively grow, and the brain tissue can restore itself in about a month.

After the autologous meningeal tissue grows back, the artificial meninges will automatically dissolve into harmless water and carbon dioxide.

The innovation has already received several medical certificates, including the CE Mark, the European Union's mandatory conformity marking for regulating goods sold within the European Economic Area; and was approved by the China Food and Drug Administration, the Chinese agency for the regulation of drugs and medical devices. It is believed to be the first applied bio-printed product to hail from China.

Despite their impressive achievements thus far, Yuan and his company prefer to focus on the bigger picture. "It is difficult to grow by releasing only a single product," he said, adding that making innovative products that cover the whole industrial chain can help a company lift its competitiveness.

Already applying for hundreds of patents at home and abroad and laying out a relatively complete product line in the field of neurosurgery, Medprin will expand to other fields, like stomatology, and develop product lines such as hemostasis, medical glue and dental restoration.

Tapping into talent

"Although creating innovation is difficult, it is the one foundation that truly supports the development and evolution of an enterprise. Providing people, who have high health requirements, with sound products and solid services is the key to success," Yuan said, adding that China's manufacturing industry is very strong, yet still features much room for the manufacturing of innovative products.

"Especially in the medical field, we still rely on the imports of many raw materials and equipment; the industrial chain is also short of talents. The future still needs more exploration."

In 2018, Yuan was elected as one of some 3,000 deputies to the 13th National People's Congress (NPC), China's national legislature. At this year's NPC session in March, the annual gathering where deputies discuss state affairs as well as their proposals on national development and the people's wellbeing, Yuan voiced his opinions on hi-tech company development and high-caliber personnel.

He called on enterprises to play a major role in scientific and technological innovation. He added various measures should be taken to encourage them to take the lead on or, at the very least, participate in key research and development programs.

Industry leaders should get more involved in applied basic research. They should establish research institutes and innovation consortia together with national and provincial laboratories to promote the application of innovative results.

The industrialization transfer rate of China's effective patents stood at 34.7 percent in 2020, an annual survey issued by the China National Intellectual Property Administration read in April 2021. For enterprise patentees, the patent industrialization rate stood at 44.9 percent—and has consistently been above 40 percent in the previous five years.

In terms of talent introduction, Yuan suggested young skilled personnel receive more opportunities to head major projects.

"Talents between the ages of 30 and 40 are part of the most creative and innovative generation, and they should be encouraged to lead scientific and technological innovation," Yuan concluded.

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