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Tonkin Liu creates medical device from structural material

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London-based architect Tonkin Liu has developed a medical device to improve trachea transplants and treatment of collapsed airways

The practice, which last month picked up the RIBA’s Stephen Lawrence Prize for best project under £1 million, has created a prototype stent for medical procedures.

Made from Tonkin Liu’s self-created ultra-lightweight Shell Lace structural material, the C-shaped medical device is designed to adapt to each patient.

The stent can be inserted in its inverted position and then unfurled to provide a flexible and strong fit, according to the practice.

Tonkin Liu’s foray into the medical sector started with a question raised by a clinical research scientist during a talk at a RIBA-hosted exhibition of shell lace projects in 2014.

Obtaining funding from government-backed agency Innovate UK in 2016, the practice set about creating prototype stents using 3D-printing. To be suitable for medical use, the shell lace device had to be 500 times smaller than those previously created for architectural application.

Tonkin liu shell lace stent relaxed loaded deployed

Tonkin liu shell lace stent relaxed loaded deployed

Practice partner Mike Tonkin said: ‘This project is small in scale but grand in ambition. It demonstrates how architects can apply themselves beyond architecture; how we can design things other than buildings. We hope now to bring the Shell Lace Stent to manufacture stage and see it bring tangible benefits to patients globally.’

He added: ‘We need to collectively reimagine the role of the architect; the architecture sector has great potential to engage with different realms and professions. As we all live longer and make greater demands on the medical profession, we should all look to use what skills we have – in our case advanced digital design and fabrication – to collaborate and benefit society.’

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