Apr 19, 2016

Preventative medicine has saved countless lives and a focus on anti-bacterial measures is a major contributor to keeping those in the know safe and infection free. The spread of bacteria, often times preventable, is responsible for around 13,500 deaths in the EU states while about 2 million patients in the United States having suffered from hospital-acquired infections (30% of which comes from drug-resistant bacteria infections).

3D printing is creeping its way to the rescue once again thanks in part to research being done at theNanchang University in China’s Jiangxi province. The solution, in incredibly simple terms, can be likened to a 3D printed band-aid. But in reality, the efforts put forth by the researchers behind the recently released journal entry (free until the end of May) are anything but simple. Much of the idea behind their approach is the ability to activate and deactivate the potentially life-saving antibacterial properties of an applied patch.

So how does 3D printing factor in exactly? Based on my understanding, it’s through the precision controlled application of three antibacterial “modes” (packaged, on and off) that the team is able to regulate antibacterial activity in a very controlled manner. This control minimizes drug-resistant bacteria from spreading at the pace it has been since 20th century saviours like penicillin started losing their effectiveness.

The research paper summarizes the 3D printing advantage by stating that “the released silver nanoparticles were highly potent against both drug-susceptible and drug-resistant strains, which were derived from practical clinical cases. On the other hand, cell toxicity and animal experiments demonstrated the high biosafety of the as-prepared CPSN, which established a favorable foundation for further expanding its practical applications. Most importantly, these high- efficient antibiotic nanoparticles could be removed from the medium immediately.”

What this means is that this ability to control very accurately how and at what quantity antibacterial agents are distributed via their smart bandage technology (by means of different depositied shapes thanks to the layered 3D printing process) and mode switching.

David Mills, an expert in bioactive therapeutics at Louisiana Tech University was impressed by the research and suggests these switchable antibacterial examples that “blend nanotechnology, chemistry and materials science whilst also showcasing the impact of 3D printing on real-world biomedicine,” and that “Wang’s team is helping to realise a future where medical treatment has become on-demand, highly personalized, with treatment modality that are patient specific, not “one size fits all.”

It’s this patient specificity that has become a big draw when it comes to bringing together the 3D printing world and the medical community. The notion that every individual is unique with different medical demands and requirements lends itself nicely to the one-off and hyper-customizability common in many 3D printing technologies.

Who knows, maybe one time soon we’ll be able to walk into to local drug store, pick up a pack of 3D printed mode-switching bandaids and get exactly the right amount of anti-bacterial additive for whatever it is that ails us.




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