3D printers can make medication implants now

Scientists from Louisiana Tech University have pioneered a new way to deliver medication using a standard 3D printer.

As Science Daily reports, the research team, which was made up of staff and doctoral students from the biomedical engineering and nanosystems engineering courses, designed extruders (the nozzle that pushes out the end product) suitable for medical-grade filaments. These super thin filaments can safely biodegrade in the body, making them a useful way to deliver drugs.

Nanoparticles of antibiotics or chemotherapy medication can be added to the filaments and the printer will shape them into small, partially hollowed-out beads that can be implanted in the body where they’re needed. This is especially useful for chemo, where localised treatments can reduce the chance of widespread symptoms, for antibiotics, which can disturb the balance of gut bacteria when taken orally, or in the use of any long-term medication, where liver or kidney damage might otherwise be an issue. Once the drug is absorbed by the body, the filament will dissolve over time.

Existing antibiotic implants are already available, but they’re made out of Plexiglass and have to be surgically removed. The team, who were given materials and support from 3D printing experts Extrusionbot, say that because no specialist equipment is needed, their technique would allow hospitals to easily manufacture individually-designed treatments for patients.

It’s currently just a prototype, but with targeted, personalised medicine increasingly looking like the future of healthcare, there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t become commonplace. Jeffery Weisman is a Louisiana Tech doctoral student who was involved with the research, and he says, ‘One of the greatest benefits of this technology is that it can be done using any consumer printer and can be used anywhere in the world.’

Image via John Biehler’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley