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3D-printed medicinal drugs could be the future

Researchers at Louisiana Tech University last month took a big step forward in increasing the affordability and availability of healthcare, after using a MakerBot Replicator – a commercial 3D printer costing under £2,000 – to print cancer-fighting medical implants.


The team at Louisiana Tech collaborated to make filament extruders capable of creating medical-grade 3D printing filaments for targeted drug delivery. These filaments can be infused with specific doses of antibacterial and chemotherapeutic drug compounds, potentially allowing doctors to simply print the drug-containing biomaterial into capsules.


“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,” said Jeffery Weisman, a doctoral student at the university. “The material can be loaded with antibiotics or other medicinal compounds, and the implant can be naturally broken down by the body over time.”


Currently, antibiotic implants or “beads” are usually made out of bone cements, which need to be hand-mixed by a surgeon during a procedure and can contain harmful substances. They also require additional surgery to remove, as the materials used are not broken down by the body.


The beads being made at Louisiana Tech are made from bioplastic, which is naturally reabsorbed by the body, and they are partially hollow, allowing for customisable shapes and a greater surface area for drug delivery. This is expected to improve dosage control, further reducing the chance of complications from toxic drugs.


Another major benefit of the technology is that it can be made anywhere, using any 3D printer – even inexpensive consumer models, a potentially revolutionary factor for healthcare in developing countries. It also could also allow hospitals and clinics to print their own drugs on demand, without needing to wait for deliveries from pharmaceutical suppliers.


Currently, embedding of additives in plastic requires industrial-scale facilities to ensure proper dispersion throughout the extruded plastic," added Dr David K Mills, professor of biological sciences at the university. "Our method enables dispersion on a tabletop scale, allowing researchers to easily customize additives to the desired levels.”


The project is only one of dozens of medical applications for 3D printing technology that have been developed in recent years. In 2012, scientists at the University of Glasgow announced that they had used a 3D printer to create a range of compounds and clusters that are used in cancer treatments – potentially paving the way for a future of printable prescription drugs.

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