Interstellar Therapeutics and the 4D Printer
The Next Dimension
4D printing; sounds pretty sci-fi, doesn’t it? Well, it may not be that way for long. Interstellar Therapeutics, a company founded by Northeastern University Professor and Art Zafiropoulo Chair in Engineering Thomas Webster and Doctor of Pharmacy Siddhant Sharma, and supported by Alexandros Makryannis, George Behrakis Chair of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at Northeastern and Founder and Director of the Center for Drug Discovery, is seeking to change the face of medical technology as we know it with a novel 4D printing process previously unseen in modern medicine.
Interstellar Therapeutics was formed in March of 2019 after Sharma approached Webster with an idea to help overcome the widespread opioid pandemic afflicting communities here in the United States and across the world. In its original capacity, the tech Sharma and Webster set out to develop was intended to replace current pain medication with a drug-delivery system that could treat pain in patients more effectively than current pain medications while simultaneously reducing risk of addiction.
“One of our main first applications of these 4D printed materials is for the on-demand, controlled release of pain medication,” says Webster. The idea is to create a device that can be placed at the source of a patient’s pain and release medication where it is needed most. Webster refers to this as a personalized approach to treatment, and he believes it is the future of medicine. Rather than utilizing broad treatments that can incur side-effects such as addiction or lengthy recovery periods, Interstellar Therapeutics intends to use their technology to create treatments administered on a patient-by-patient basis. By creating implants designed specifically for a particular patient’s condition, the condition itself can be treated more precisely through the release of medication when and where it is needed. In the case of an opioid-oriented treatment, by administering medication only at the source of pain, effective treatment requires less pain medication and does not expose the rest of the body to large doses of the medication, thereby reducing the likelihood patients develop an addiction.
An Alternative to Opioids
With the help of Dr. Makryannis, Interstellar Therapeutics aims to tackle the problem of addiction by implementing a kind of medication different from opioid-based treatments. Makriyannis’ work in the field of pharmaceuticals includes the study of cannabinoids, which have the potential to replicate the pain-relief sought after in traditional opioid-based medications without the high risk of addiction. His lab creates molecules that can activate cannabinoid-receptors located all over the human body, called CB1 receptors. “The CB1 receptor is present in the kidney, the lung, fat cells, immune cells, so they are all over the place,” says Makriyannis. “Depending on what we want to deal with, we administer the drug where it is needed using the 4D technology,” he continues. As a result, the drug-delivery system devised by Webster retains its versatility when used in tandem with Makriyannis’ specially-designed cannabinoid-based treatment.
The Healing Process
Since conception, Interstellar Therapeutics has adapted its mission to not only enhance the way medical professionals administer pain medication, but to also leverage the unique benefits of 4D properties by amplifying physical therapy and developing superior artificial implants. In addition to treating a patient’s pain in a direct and efficient way, the devices being developed can provide support to injuries such as fractures or broken bones and then help those injuries heal faster through physical therapy.
But what makes Interstellar’s printing process “4D”? Time, according to Webster and Sharma. Since implementation in the medical fields, implants have provided a way of producing medical equipment tailored to a patient’s needs, allowing for the replacement of vital structures in the body. While this methodology has proven useful, standard implants are fixed in their shape, which represents a lost opportunity. “The implants we use today are the same after 10 years in the patients body than when you implanted them,” says Webster. “Nothing has the ability to control their function externally based on time,” he notes.
4D-printing remedies the problem of non-malleability in existing implants by producing medical equipment that can be transformed over time without the need for direct medical intervention. By utilizing a remote controller linked to the equipment implanted in the patient’s body, Interstellar’s 4D materials can be adjusted on the fly to meet a patient’s needs over the course of their treatment. As an injury, such as a fracture, heals, the 4D implant’s role in the healing process can be modified to maximize benefit to the patient. Webster says, “It gives more control to the patient and more control to the doctor to change your health based on how you’re responding to a particular treatment. It gives more power to your doctor to help improve your health.”
The Future Wide-Open
Interstellar Therapeutics has the potential to radically change the way doctors treat their patients, and how effective those treatments can be. Webster’s drug-delivery system has obvious applications in administering pain medications, though the team believes that it can be used to administer many other types of treatments as well. “The on-demand drug delivery system the 4D technology incorporates is compatible with potential oncology and cancer medications,” says Sharma. Alongside Makriyannis and his advanced cannabinoid molecules, Interstellar’s 4D multi-faceted printing technology could replace and surpass many current treatments on the market today.
Written by Joseph Burns
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Feature image by marcoverch. Some rights reserved.