Tailor-made, targeted treatment of bone metastases thanks to 3D printing

Aimed at developing materials suitable for the repair of bone metastases, the 3DTraitCancer project has resulted in two patents and two start-ups. This project is supported by MUSE as part of its 2017 Support for Research call for projects.

Bone repair down to the micrometer. This is the precision made possible by 3D printing of custom-designed implants. In addition to shape, the structure of the implants must contribute to bone reconstitution by facilitating the progression of bone cells and resorbing naturally. Research This objective was the starting point for the meeting between Mikhael Bechelany's team from the European Membrane Institute (IEM) and Vincent Cavaillès' team from the Montpellier Institute for Cancer Research (IRCM). "As is often the case in the sciences, a first meeting gives rise to more ambitious collaborations", comments the latter. For these two researchers, the collaboration takes the form of the 3DTraitCancer project, which aims to develop new implants to treat tumor pathologies of the bone (osteoclastoma, bone metastases of breast cancer, etc.). Bone repair after the removal of metastasized bone areas is indeed one aspect of cancer treatment research. Funding from Muse in 2017 has given them a head start.

The ideal material

Straddling chemistry and biology, Habib Belaid's thesis led to the design of the ideal material for these implants: a biodegradable, biomimetic porous structure. "Cells must be able to attach and multiply easily in this structure, which must then degrade naturally after a few months as the bone regenerates," explains the young doctor. He prints his materials on the 3D printers atIEM, then tests them in the IRCM laboratory to check that they are non-toxic first, and then to improve their expected characteristics.

In addition to bone regeneration, these implants should also help prevent cancer relapse by enabling localized drug treatment. In other words, the porous structure should facilitate the circulation of fluids to administer an anticancer agent. A targeted therapy that could help avoid systemic treatments poorly tolerated by patients. In addition to chemistry and biology, this project also mobilizes medical expertise from the Montpellier University Hospital and Cancer Institute, as well as mechanical engineering from the Laboratoire de Mécanique et Génie Civil (LMGC). "A network of skills initiated by Muse that fosters this essential interdisciplinarity," emphasizes Vincent Cavaillès.

Two start-ups

Still on the subject of bone repair, research is being carried out in parallel on injectable cements. Indeed, bone lesions created by metastases induce vertebral fractures that require cement injection, rather than implant surgery. Results obtained during Habib Belaid's thesis, which will be completed in 2019, and during Carole Barou's CIFRE thesis, have led to two patents on reparative phosphocalcic cements. One concerns the local delivery of drugs present in the cement, with two molecules involved in bone regeneration and in the treatment of tumor recurrence. The other on a cement with improved mechanical properties and made opaque so that it can be easily monitored by X-ray. A subsequent meeting with an industrialist led to the creation of the start-up Biologics4life, which enabled these cements to enter the commercial phase.

Now that Biologics4life has found its business model after three years in existence, Habib Belaid is working on the launch of a second start-up, NextMat3D, this time focused on valorizing his research into printed osteomimetic implants. To establish this new company, the researcher will initially adapt the technology to uses less complex than cancer treatment, such as dentistry: in this case, the implant is used to fill a bone deficit prior to fitting a dental implant. The future entrepreneur points out that obtaining marketing authorization for dental equipment is also easier and quicker than for oncology.