Additive manufacturing technology will be considered truly mature and groundbreaking when it can finally be used to produce full, working organs in a single go, but that is still decades off. The baby steps made in the meantime are still remarkable though.
What we are going to look at today is an achievement by people you have probably never heard of, a group of researchers from Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) in South Korea.
They have come up with something that easily matches, in scope, Organovo's 3D printed livers and other achievements from around the world, like 3D printed blood vessels.
More precisely, they have used 3D printing technology to create a subcutaneous drug delivery system that can lead medicine right where it's needed.
The 3D printed drug delivery system
Immunosuppressive drugs like CsA (cyclosporine) are commonly used prior and after surgeries, as they are a class of drugs that suppress or reduce the strength of the body's immune system.
This is key in preventing the body from considering a transplanted organ as a foreign object, lest the body reject it and cause complications or death.
The problem with them is that they always spread to areas of the body that would do better if they didn't get a dose of them. Injections are all well and good, but blood flow and the way the other fluids in the body travel prevent any true form of localized application of such medicine.
The new 3D printed delivery system from POSTECH uses a combined microsphere and hydrogel system that can maintain its integrity and shape during the implantation period.
It can deliver a sustained CsA release to prevent the acceleration of the secretion of cytokines related to immune rejection while not spreading the drug to places where it shouldn't go.
Animal tests have proven very promising already when using the combined microsphere and hydrogel system, compared to using the tiny biodegradable drug capsules and hydrogels on their own, which invariably caused damage to surrounding organs.
Estimated time of practical use
It's hard to say when the 3D printed drug delivery system will be greenlit for human trials, but hopefully it won't take overmuch. Still, we're looking at years, and at least a decade or two before cell-based 3D printed full organs come into play.