A research team at Louisiana Tech University has recently developed a pioneering method for using inexpensive, consumer-grade 3D printers and materials to construct custom medical implants, which can contain either antibacterial and/or chemotherapeutic compounds to enable a targeted medication delivery for the patient.
Louisiana Tech’s biomedical engineering and nanosystems engineering programs collaborated together to create filament extruders, which can create medical-quality 3D printing filaments. Creating these filaments, which have specialized properties for medication delivery, is an innovative concept, which can result in smart drug delivery with medical implants.
Jeffery Weisman, a doctoral student in Louisiana Tech’s biomedical engineering program, said, “After identifying the usefulness of the 3D printers, we realized there was an opportunity for rapid prototyping using this fabrication method…Through the addition of Nanoparticles and/or other additives, this technology becomes much more viable using a common 3D printing material that is already biocompatible. The material can be loaded with antibiotics or other medicinal compounds, and the implant can be naturally broken down by the body over time.”
Personalized medicine and patient specific medication regiments is a current trend in healthcare, according to Weisman. He says this original method of creating medically compatible 3D printing filaments can offer hospital pharmacists and physicians alike, an innovative way to deliver medication and treat illness. Weisman said, “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.”
Weisman, who works out of a lab that is directed by Dr. David K. Mills, the professor of biological sciences and biomedical engineering, partnered with Connor Nicholson, a doctoral candidate in nanosystems engineering and member of a lab operated by Dr. Chester Wilson, associate professor of electrical and nanosystems engineering, to develop the technology in collaboration with Mills.
The team also worked with Extrusionbot of Phoenix, Arizona. They provided important materials support during the development and testing process.
Mills said, “We had been working on several applications of 3D printing…Several students in my lab including Jeff and Connor, who was a guest researcher from Dr. Wilson’s lab, had been working with colleagues for some time. I sent an email to them and asked them the question, ‘Do you think it would be possible to print antibiotic beads using some kind of PMMA or other absorbable material?'”
Many of today’s antibiotic implants, or “beads,” are made out of bone cements, which have to be hand-mixed by a surgeon during the course of a surgical procedure and contain toxic carcinogenic substances. Unfortunately these beads are actually a type of Plexiglas and do not break down in the human body; they require additional surgery to be removed.
The new custom 3D printed filaments can be made of bioplastics that can be resorbed by the human body and thereby avoid the need for additional surgery.
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