Doctors find use for machine created to make 3-D printer filament

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- When Valley resident Mark Dill came up with what he calls the Extrusion Bot, he wasn't looking to make medical history; he was just looking to save people some money.

“Over the last five years or so that I have been involved in 3-D printing, the only thing that hasn't come down with 3-D printing and the machines is the cost of the filament," Dill said.

What his Extrusion Bot does is make filament for 3-D printers, as much or little as you want and however you want, at a fraction of the typical $40 per spool cost.

“What my machine does is basically make the same spool for around $4,” Dill said. “And, again, it makes it on demand whenever you need it and in any color that you need as well."

But Dill soon discovered that at Louisiana Tech University and Louisiana State University,  researchers were also thinking the Extrusion Bot could save money on health care costs.

“We are starting on a journey that hopefully will lead to new therapeutics, particularly in the realm of prosthetic joint infections," said LSU’s Dr. Gerald Capraro, “which today in the United States cause upwards of $750 million worth of additional health care costs."

So, while most consumers would probably only customize their filament mix using different colors, at LSU they customize it differently.

“What we have done is we have come up with a proprietary method to create a uniform antibiotic filament," Dr. Jeffery Weisman said.

That's right. They are mixing antibiotics into the filament, which can then be custom printed into any number of medical devices.

“Virtually, any shape we could make and implant them during surgery to prevent the infection from happening before it even begins," Capraro said. That could include catheters, stents and artificial joints.

So, while Dill didn't know his Extrusion Bot might save lives, the inventor in him is not at all surprised.

“So, I think it just makes sense that you can deliver the medicine you need exactly to the spot that you need, you know, on demand," Dill said.

The Extrusion Bot costs $625, and Dill is working on a model that even more specifically meets medical demands.