3D printing continues to drive innovation in the MedTech industry, as news recently broke about a team of chemical and biomolecular engineers from the University of Berkeley who are currently developing an innovative 3D printed sponge. The purpose of the sponge is to catch excess drug molecules which collect in the bloodstreams of patients undergoing treatment for serious illnesses.

The breakthrough in 3D printing technology could potentially help improve treatments like chemotherapy. The sponge would be used as a means to mop up chemicals after they have passed through the targeted area of the body, thereby decreasing the negative side-effects of chemo. It will also allow for a higher percentage of medicine to be present during treatment, with hopes that cancer will be better combatted.

The downside of chemotherapy

While chemotherapy is an effective cancer treatment, it can also be quite damaging to healthy organs and tissues. Chemo is currently difficult to control within the cardiovascular system, and doctors are hopeful that the advent of a 3D printed sponge could allow for better chemical regulation. The concept was originally developed to absorb chemicals during liver cancer treatment, although it was quickly discovered that the sponge could be applied to other areas of the body, too.

Engineering concepts applied to medicine

The concept of an absorber is nothing new. It has been used in chemical engineering for decades – to refine petroleum by filtering unwanted chemicals, for example. In fact, petroleum filtering was the inspiration behind the chemotherapy sponge design, and with the help of 3D printing, it’s not far off becoming a reality for millions of cancer patients worldwide.

How the 3D printed sponge works

A surgeon inserts a series of 3D printed sponges through a wire, in the same way, a stent is fitted to the heart. The beauty of 3D printing is that it allows for the sponges to be customised to fit the exact diameter and shape of the patient’s veins. A correct fit is crucial, as if the sponge is too narrow, drugs will continue to pass through the bloodstream.

Although the first 3D sponges are yet to be approved by any governing bodies before they are even considered for use in hospitals, it is thought that the nature of the temporary device would mean there is a lower bar of approval – which means 3D printed sponges could become a key component of cancer treatment.