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3D printed device shows promise for treating Parkinson’s disease

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The impact 3D printing is having on life-changing applications is truly something to behold. Though the technology is not yet living up to the much-hyped expectations of 3D printed organs, it is still being used in a variety of ways to innovate within the healthcare sector. Metal 3D printing, for instance, has been leveraged to produce a new drug delivery system for treating Parkinson’s disease, which could be a game changer for the degenerative disorder.

The 3D printed device, created by UK-based metal AM company Renishaw, was recently used in a breakthrough clinical trial, demonstrating the ability to precisely deliver a new drug candidate for treating Parkinson’s disease, a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. The drug in question, Glial Cell Line Derived Neurotrophic Factor (GDNF), can help to regenerate dying dopamine brain cells in patients, resulting in improved symptoms.

The groundbreaking clinical trial for treating Parkinson’s, conducted by the North Bristol NHS Trust, was recently highlighted in a BBC Two documentary called The Parkinson’s Drug Trial: A Miracle Cure?

Up until now, treating Parkinson’s—and other nervous system disorders—has remained a challenge in the medical field. One of the reasons for this is the blood-brain barrier, a border that separates blood from the brain and extracellular fluid in the central nervous system. The biological structure, which is a vital part of the human body, also makes it difficult to deliver drugs into the brain. The new 3D printed device, however, offers a way to bypass the blood-brain barrier, enabling precise delivery of drugs.

Renishaw Parkinson's Disease
Professor Stevel Gill, from the BBC Two documentary

Renishaw says it worked closely with Professor Steven Gill, a Neurosurgeon Consultant, to design and produce the drug delivery device. The resulting product is a 3D printed titanium port which can be embedded into the skull to deliver GDNF to the putamen via micro-catheters.

In the clinical trial, 42 patients had the 3D printed drug delivery device embedded into their skulls using the Renishaw “neuromate” surgical robot. The robot allowed for the devices to be carefully implanted while also positioning the four catheters into the brain. The results of this first trial were positive and now other clinical trials are being conducted using a similar device called “neuroinfuse.”

“This trial has shown that we can safely and repeatedly infuse drugs directly into patient’s brains over months or years through a small implanted port that emerges through the skin behind the ear,” said Professor Gill. “This is a significant breakthrough in our ability to treat neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s because most drugs that might work cannot cross from the bloodstream into the brain due to a natural protective barrier. 

“Even at a low dose we have seen evidence of patient improvement, which is incredibly encouraging. Now we need to move towards a definitive clinical trial using higher doses and this work urgently needs funding. I believe that this approach could be the first neuro-restorative treatment for people living with Parkinson’s which is, of course, an extremely exciting prospect.”

The trial itself was funded by Parkinson’s UK with support from the Cure Parkinson’s Trust and the North Bristol NHS Trust. Within the UK, the equivalent of two people every hour are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Globally, more than 10 million people suffer from the degenerative disease. Having a viable treatment method for the disorder could have a huge impact on patients and their quality of life.

“It has been a privilege to work alongside the study team and with the participants in this ambitious trial,” added Paul Skinner, General Manager for Neurological Products at Renishaw. “We are very encouraged that there were changes in the brain scans, demonstrating that GDNF is having an effect, and that the delivery system achieved precision administration of drugs into the brain. This provides great potential for using the drug delivery system, being developed by Renishaw, for future Parkinson’s studies and experimental treatments for other neurodegenerative diseases and brain tumours.”

Renishaw is incredibly active in the medical sector. Recently, the company worked with nTopology and Irish Manufacturing Research (IMR) to showcase the benefits of 3D printing spinal implants. The company is also working with the University Dental Hospital of Wales to 3D print custom maxillofacial implants and surgical guides.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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