Researchers show off early work on 3-D printer-made implants

Aug 27, 2014

Researchers at LSU Health Shreveport and Louisiana Tech University in Ruston are in the early stages of developing a new way to deliver antibiotics and other medicine via customized, implantable devices created using a 3-D printer. 

Louisiana Tech biomedical engineering doctoral student Karthik Patta shows a specimen for how a plastic filament could dispense antibiotics in the case of joint surgery. Jeffery Weisman holds a plastic implant in the background.
Credit Kate Archer Kent

LSU Medical School student Jeffery Weisman is also pursuing his doctorate in biomedical engineering from Louisiana Tech. He presented his research in collaboration with LSU Health Shreveport. It intensified over the past three months when he experimented with making plastic medical prototypes from a consumer-grade 3-D printer.

“I think this is something that could hit the market and help patients very quickly,” Weisman said at a Tuesday news conference to unveil the research.

Weisman and his colleagues are using 3-D printers to make coated plastic beads and rods that could be implanted during a surgery to dispense antibiotics or other medication in a precise location.

The plastic breaks down and is absorbed by the body, according to Weisman, therefore preventing a follow-up surgery to remove it as is the practice now with bone cement in joint replacement surgery.

“We can create a 3-D printing construct for a specific patient that has a specific drug or a specific amount of drug. We can do that for localized delivery. It’s really amazing that in this day and age we can do that in a manner of minutes,” Weisman said.

LSU Health Shreveport clinical microbiology lab director Gerald Capraro confirmed that his lab has been able to replicate what the students were able to do in preventing infection when the coated implants were tested in a Petri dish. Capraro is cautiously optimistic.

LSU Health Shreveport medical school student Jeffery Weisman explains how a plastic extruder works in his prototype work on plastic drug-delivery implants.
Credit Kate Archer Kent

“We’re going to have a few more experiments to demonstrate that this process actually does inhibit bacterial growth. We’ve got some preliminary data both from their lab and from the clinical lab here at the medical school that shows that antibiotic containing plastic does inhibit bacterial growth in the laboratory,” Capraro said.

The researchers say the next step is to apply for grants to establish a funding stream, and do a lot more testing. They say there isn’t any published research yet in using 3-D printers in this manner.