The world’s first 3D-printed, drug-delivering oesophageal stent has been developed by Australian researchers at the University of South Australia (UniSA) and Flinders University.
Made from polyurethane filaments, the 3D-printed stent contains active pharmaceutical ingredients such as the chemotherapy drug 5-flourouracil, and can be placed directly into the oesophagus – our food tube, which connects our mouth to our stomach.
This means that the stents can deliver anti-cancer medication directly to the cancer site for up to 110 days, preventing further tumour growth.
“Oesophageal cancer is often challenging to treat, with early diagnosis critical for positive outcomes,” says Paris Fouladian, of UniSA. “The most prominent symptom is dysphagia (difficulty swallowing food or drink), which is due to malignant cancer cells blocking the oesophagus.
“Blockages are commonly eased by an oesophageal stent – a small tube that is placed in the food pipe to keep it open – but these too can become obstructed by invading cancer cells.”
“Our new drug-loaded oesophageal stents can help prevent further blockages by administering anti-cancer drugs directly to the tumour, limiting further growth while relieving the pressure of dysphagia.”
1,587 people were diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in Australia in 2020; it’s the seventh most common cancer in the world. Without early diagnosis and treatment, the five-year survival rate is only around 20%.
“3D-printing processes that combine medicines and medical devices are on the precipice of changing the way we deliver medicines,” says Sanjay Garg, director of UniSA’s Pharmaceutical Innovation and Development Group.
“We’re now exploring the potential of 3D-printing to design precise and individualised drug delivery systems.
“While more research is needed to further test the new drug-loaded 3D-printed stents, we’re hopeful that this new technology will deliver positive outcomes for people with oesophageal cancer.”
Their new research paper was recently published in the journal Biomaterials Science.