Micropatterning is often used to engineer the surface properties of objects because it allows the enhancement or modification of specific functionalities without modification of the bulk material properties. Microneedle arrays have been explored in the past for drug delivery and enhancement of tissue anchoring; however, conventional methods are primarily limited to thick, planar substrates. Here, we demonstrate a method for the fabrication of microneedle arrays on thin flexible polyurethane substrates. These thin-film microneedle arrays can be used to fabricate balloons and other inflatable objects. In addition, these thin-filmed microneedles can be transferred, using thermal forming processes, to more complex 3D objects on which it would otherwise be difficult to directly pattern microneedles. This function is especially useful for medical devices, which require effective tissue anchorage but are a challenging target for micropatterning due to their 3D nonplanar shape, large size, and the complexity of the required micropatterns. Ultrathin flexible thermoplastic polyurethane microneedle arrays were fabricated from a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) mold. The technique was applied onto the nonplanar surface of rapidly prototyped soft robotic implantable polyurethane devices. We found that a microneedle-patterned surface can increase the anchorage of the device to a tissue by more than twofold. In summary, our soft lithographic patterning method can rapidly and inexpensively generate thin-film microneedle surfaces that can be used to produce balloons or enhance the properties of other 3D objects and devices.
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