04-29 nessie

[Image above] A European Union-funded project is using ceramic 3D printing to create devices used in vaccine purification processes. Credit: SINTEFweb, YouTube

As industry and academia scramble to aid governments in combatting COVID-19, one manufacturing technique in particular has proven itself very useful—additive manufacturing (AM).

AM can produce parts faster than traditional manufacturing techniques, making it an ideal way to combat the shortage of essential medical devices, such as ventilators and face shields. A video published by Verge Science interviewed some of the people involved in AM initiatives.

Credit: Verge Science, YouTube

Unsurprisingly, many of the AM initiatives involve 3D printing plastic materials. But are any ceramic materials being used in the AM fight against COVID-19?

Look no further than NESSIE, a European Union-funded research project that aims to address the slow and expensive development and production process for essential vaccines.

The NESSIE research project was initiated by SINTEF, a Norwegian research organization; Lithoz, a world market leader in 3D printing of ceramics; and IBET, a Portuguese biopharmaceutical research center. genIbet and Cerpotech later joined the consortium, bringing their expertise on manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals and innovative materials, respectively.

Ceramic materials are used in NESSIE to help improve the end of the vaccine production process—vaccine purification.

“Vaccine candidates are typically produced in a multi-component environment consisting of numerous impurities and co-produced contaminant,” an American Pharmaceutical Review article explains. As such, purification of vaccines is required to remove these impurities.

Purification is a multistep process that faces many technological and economic challenges and thus accounts for a substantial fraction of the total vaccine manufacturing cost. So finding low-cost purification methods is an important step toward making affordable vaccines.

One method of vaccine purification is chromatography, a technique that separates a mixture by passing it through a medium in which the mixture’s components move at different rates. The medium through which the mixture flows is what NESSIE looks to improve.

“The main goal of this project is to produce new structured adsorbents as selective chromatographic media to separate complex biopharmaceuticals,” the project website explains. In other words, the goal of NESSIE is to manufacture novel chromatographic columns, devices used to separate chemical compounds.

To create the columns, NESSIE used Lithoz’s ultra-high-resolution ceramic 3D printing technology to create columns with tailored shapes and controlled porosity. Ideally, these specially designed columns will improve separation and reduce the number of necessary purification steps, thus cutting production costs.

Check out the columns in the video below.

Credit: SINTEFweb, YouTube

According to a recent press release on the project, NESSIE so far has successfully produced the first chromatographic supports and will soon test them by purifying adenoviruses, a group of common viruses that often cause fever, coughs, sore throats, diarrhea, and pink eye, among other illnesses.

For more information about NESSIE and the consortium, contact Martin Schwentenwein, head of material development at Lithoz GmbH, at mschwentenwein@lithoz.com or Carlos A. Grande, senior research scientist at SINTEF, at carlos.grande@sintef.no.