3D printing enables a novel approach to delivering liquid payloads autonomously in remote/hazardous operational locations or inside the body. In the case of preventative system maintenance, 3D printed micro-containers containing a payload of lubricant material are affixed to the component potentially requiring maintenance. In pharmaceutical applications, the payload is delivered as an oral or injectable medication. Regardless of the use case, these liquid-filled storage shells are constructed of a relatively durable polymer material. After the payload is injected into the shells each is sealed with a second, less durable polymer (both of which may be biodegradable). The capping polymer is selected for its sensitivity to one or more expected environmental conditions (such as temperature or acidity). Polymer #2 is printed atop the shells with a graduated depth leaving some shells thinly capped while others are covered more thickly. When the triggering condition arises its presence acts to erode the condition-sensitive caps until the payload is released, starting with the shells that are most thinly capped.
The foundational research behind InfraTrac's patent-pending innovation to enable improved controlled release was done at the University of Maryland's Bioinspired Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory (BAML) under the direction of Prof. Ryan School.
Precise, customizable drug delivery remains a long-term goal as such technologies will allow therapies tailored to a patient’s biological makeup and potentially improve adherence. Extended-release methods address part of the issue, but face limitations. A novel drug delivery system could offer better pediatric dosing, via both oral and new routes of administration. Existing extended-release methods are limited: industry standards for liquid-drug microcarrier fabrication are restricted by manufacturing-induced constraints, including: (i) limited micro-carrier geometries; (ii) undesired carrier-to-carrier variability; (iii) difficult means of multidrug microcarrier production; and (iv) exceedingly impractical pathways to on-demand modifications of microcarrier architectures and compositions.
Rapid multi-material three-dimensional (3D) nanoprinting of liquid-filled microcontainers offers the potential to revolutionize the production of therapeutic microcarriers by addressing the aforementioned pain points via: (i) unparalleled 3D versatility in microcarrier design, (ii) 100-nm-scale feature resolution, (iii) rapid, multi-material production, and (iv) on-demand customization of each individual microcarrier. Proof of concept has been demonstrated by printing 3D microcontainers the size of human epithelial cells comprising standard (i.e., non-biological) photoresists encompassing an aqueous fluid.
InfraTrac's research focus is on engineering microcarriers based on biocompatible and biodegradable materials, with microcarrier architectures composed of: (1) a biodegradable outer “shell” with an orifice on top, (2) a core of (at least one) therapeutic liquid “payload”, and (3) a custom-designed biodegradable “cap” atop the shell. At scale, this strategy could produce extended-release microcarriers, with each cap design (and thus, biodegradation dynamics) offering distinct, targeted release kinetics. Improved stability and non-accumulation are additional advantages. The innovation of liquid-filled microcarriers with tailor-made architectures and compositions at this scale offers precision dosing and therapeutic options— e.g., combination therapies and release rate controls—not otherwise achievable.
InfraTrac's liquid encapsulation and controlled release technology uses multi-material, nanoscale 3D printed capsules to release payloads "just in time" and without the need for manual interventions in response to environmental or operational fault conditions such as excess heat, friction or acidity. While initially developed to support improved pharmaceutical drug delivery, this novel approach has tribological application in biomedical devices, aerospace, EVs, and renewable energy systems, especially those operating in harsh and difficult to access environments.
The same liquid encapsulation and autonomous controlled release technology used to deploy lubricant payloads can be used to enable self-repair when the payload is a two-part epoxy material. The encapsulated epoxy can be applied as a surface coating with a thickness as small as 10 microns. Degradation of the bi-polymer cap that seals each capsule can be triggered by anomalous operating conditions such as excess heat or vibration.