3-D Printing Tackles Cancer

Researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio are developing tiny injectable three dimensional printed devices to deliver medicine to cancerous tumors inside the human body. Let’s take a behind the scenes look at how these devices are conceptualized in the lab.


Researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio are developing tiny injectable three-dimensional printed devices to deliver medicine to cancerous tumors inside the human body.

Let's take a behind-the-scenes look at how these devices are conceptualized in the lab.

This particular system, as opposed to being an oral capsule that a patient swallows, is an implantable.

A lot of people are a little worried about implants, though the IUD market and a lot of the other implantables that have become more and more common, the average patient is becoming more comfortable with the idea.

These implants, as opposed to a large thing that we're going to cut open and slip in, is a microimplant or miniature.

It's in the millimeter scale, so it can be delivered through a needle stick just like a flu shot.

Size is really important in some of the designs that we're going for because 'A,' we want it to able to be injected so we don't have to have an invasive surgery.

We can just go in with the syringe and inject it that way.

And 'B,' because some of the drugs we're delivering don't necessarily take a very large dosage.

If we're going to deliver to a cancer tumor, then the size doesn't need to be very big because the therapeutics are pretty concentrated, and they don't need to be very large in volume.

So the scale that we want has to be injectable, which is why we're making them so small.

We're hoping to get them down to about, like, 1-by-3 millimeters.

Injectable sizes can go up to 2 to 3 millimeters in diameter as well.

If the device itself is 1-by-3 millimeters, then we have to make the composite structures inside even smaller.

So pretty much what you're looking at here is, we're actually creating a 3-by-3-millimeter cylinder.

So if you see right here, this just pretty much the inside structure of how it's being filled on the inside, which will play an important role as far as the drug delivery as well.

So with this software, we can actually change the way that it's filled to actually alter different parameters as well.

So some of the changes that I've found to be very, very important is, for instance, the pressure, the temperature as well which is here.

We're at 130 degrees Celsius for our PCL, which is polycaprolactone.

So that's another thing, as far as the layer height as well.

So we want it to have a very fine resolution when it's inside of the body as well.

So pressure, the speed, there are quite a few variables that you can change to get the perfect print.

So right here, we're actually on layer 31 of 32.

So this is pretty much... This software allows me to control everything that's going on over here with the 3-D printer.

So if I click Continue Printing, then we'll print our last layer, and then we have our 3-by-3-millimeter-sized particle ready to go.

So what we'll do is, we'll take this powder here, which is the polycaprolactone, and we'll actually place it inside of the chamber, which is here.

So we place it inside of the chamber and allow it to melt, and then once it's fully melted, then we'll go ahead and start printing.

So one of the main reasons that we have this fan here is because our PCL, the polycaprolactone that's located in the inside, it doesn't cool fast enough.

So if we can get it to cool fast enough, then we can print on top of the next layer, so that's why this fan is located here as well.

I can actually print this print in roughly 15 to 20 minutes.

Actually, you can print it faster, but with the properties of PCL, you want to make sure you kind of let it take its time to cool and things of that nature, so...

So these are on the millimeter scale.

We're trying to get them to be 1-by-3 millimeters up to 2 to 3 millimeters in diameter at the most.

So they're going to be really small because we plan to inject them.

So in order to inject them, they need to be at a very small scale, and if you just want to compare it to a penny...


Let me put the penny next to it right there so you can compare the size.

The pharmaceutical industry is coming out with new drugs constantly, and they're making incremental improvements to a drug, and then there's a breakthrough drug that's this blockbuster that runs away.

That's happening so fast than an academic research lab wouldn't be able to, say, optimize a system for today's big drug because tomorrow there's another one.

Now, this system is drug-agnostic, and by that we mean that it can be used to deliver nearly any drug.

So this system, as the pharmaceutical industry continues to push those boundaries, our system can be used to deliver whatever the new flavor of the week is in what's being developed in drug discovery.