A great strength of 3D-printing in the field of medicine is the ability to provide low-cost, personalized implants molded to a patient's anatomy. Researchers from Louisiana Tech University have now taken the technology one step further, loading these custom implants with cancer-fighting and antiobiotic compounds as a means of better targeted drug delivery.

The team's research centered on current drug delivery devices known as antibiotic beads. These implants are typically formed using bone cements and hand-made by a surgeon during a procedure. One problem they pose results from an inability to break down in the body, requiring follow-up surgery for removal once their job is done.

By developing custom 3D-printing filaments with specific properties for drug delivery, the team were able to use consumer grade 3D printers to produce a new and improved antibiotic bead. Using this new filament to print the bead means it can be loaded with antibacterial and chemotherapeutic compounds to target medical implants or catheters. The plastic is then resorbed by the body, negating the need for follow-up surgeries.

"Currently, embedding of additives in plastic requires industrial-scale facilities to ensure proper dispersion throughout the extruded plastic," says Dr. David K. Mills, lab director and professor of biological sciences and biomedical engineering at Louisiana Tech. "Our method enables dispersion on a tabletop scale, allowing researchers to easily customize additives to the desired levels. It is truly novel and a worldwide first to be 3D-printing custom devices with antibiotics and chemotherapeutics."

Furthermore, the 3D-printed beads are partially hollow, creating a larger surface area providing the ability to deliver more drugs in a controlled way. Another advantage of the beads is they offer localized treatment, thereby avoiding the use of large systemic doses of toxic drugs that can cause liver and kidney damage in the patient.

According to Jeffery Weisman, a doctoral student in Louisiana Tech’s biomedical engineering program, the new technique will provide hospital pharmacists and physicians with a novel way of treating illness.

"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," he said.

View gallery - 2 images