Pharmacy Students' 3D-Printing Invention Will Benefit Cancer Patients


A pair of North Dakota State University (NDSU) pharmacy students won first prize and the People's Choice Award at the school's 2016 Innovation Challenge.

A pair of North Dakota State University (NDSU) pharmacy students won first prize and the People’s Choice Award at the school’s 2016 Innovation Challenge.

The students’ Opt-M3D project leveraged a 3D printer to create a cell culture apparatus that can help screen chemotherapeutic agents on tumor cells from cancer patients. Their objective was to find a way to clone tumors so that they could test which drug would be the best treatment for a particular cancer patient.

Prajakta Kulkarni, a graduate student in pharmaceutical sciences, and Matthew Confeld, a pharmaceutical sciences major, used a 3D printer to create a capsule where the tumor grows after tumor cells are placed inside it, Emerging Prairie explained. Then, the capsule is connected to tanks containing cell culture media to simulate the body flow of a human.

The students were not only able to replicate a tumor taken from cancer cells they bought online, but they also discovered that they could create 4 tumors at once using their invention. Using this process, Kilkarni and Confeld estimate that screening for the right cancer therapy could be done in around 15 to 20 days, Emerging Prairie reported.

In addition to a short time frame for testing, the students expect that their process could lower health care costs. Considering that testing a single tumor uses smaller doses of medication than testing an entire body, the students believe their invention could save thousands of dollars for patients.

They also said their design could be used to test growing resistance to medications.

“We can do a follow-up and continue to grow those tumors and treat them,” Confeld told Emerging Prairie. “If resistance does develop, we can alert the physician and say, ‘There is resistance developing… [so] you might want to alert the patient and see if it’s happening in them, too.’”

Because they won first place and the People’s Choice Award, Confeld and Kulkarni walked away with $6000 in prize money. With their earnings, the students said they would like to buy their own 3D printer, since they had to print their capsule at a UPS store.

Currently, they are working to get their design patented through the NDSU Tech Transfer Office.

“It’s going to have tremendous impact,” Sanku Mallik, professor of pharmaceutical sciences and the students’ adviser, told Emerging Prairie. “It’s going to touch the lives of many cancer patients.”

Kulkarni and Confeld’s invention won first prize in the services category. The other categories were agriculture, products, and social. The judges selected 3 winners from a list of 25 finalists in these 4 categories.

The goal of the Innovation Challenge is to highlight unique or reimagined products developed by students, according to NDSU’s website.

“The purpose of Innovation Challenge is to encourage students to be innovative thinkers,” Chuck Hoge, interim executive director at the NDSU Research and Technology Park, further explained in a school press release. “We want to enhance student awareness for innovation as a precursor to entrepreneurship and empower them to pursue entrepreneurship as a career choice. At the same time, this is an effort to engage the business community with our students.”

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