Engineers and doctors at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities have designed a 3D-printed device that may help develop personalized lupus treatment, a chronic autoimmune disease with no cure. The innovation is a 3D-printed light-sensing device that enables doctors to understand how light exposure impacts lupus symptoms. This will open the door to novel therapeutic avenues.
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The Impact of Lupus on Patients and Healthcare
An estimated 1.5 million Americans and five million people worldwide currently have the disease, which leads the body’s immune system to attack its healthy tissue, resulting in health problems such as kidney disease, heart disease, infections, and, in severe cases, death.
The disease represents a significant healthcare burden, with average annual healthcare costs in the US totaling over $13,000 for mild lupus, more than $29,000 for moderate lupus, and over $68,000 for severe lupus. In the year following diagnosis, more than half of patients with severe disease activity and around one-quarter with moderate disease activity will be hospitalized overnight.
Lupus and Light Sensitivity
People suffering from the disease are at an increased risk of serious illnesses such as kidney and heart diseases. They are also impacted by the life-altering symptoms of the disease, including behavior changes, headaches, dizziness, problems with vision, sensitivity to light, and even strokes or seizures.
Light sensitivity has been reported in 40-70% of people diagnosed with lupus. Recent evidence has demonstrated that exposure to sunlight or artificial light can increase disease severity.
UV exposure is detrimental to everyone as it triggers cell damage. In most people, the immune system clears damaged cells from the body. However, immune systems take longer to clear the damaged cells in people with lupus. The response to light exposure is unique to the individual, and healthcare professionals are challenged to understand which combinations of light wavelengths contribute to the symptom flares.
There is an urgent need to understand lupus at the individual level to develop personalized lupus treatment.
An Innovative 3D-Printed Device May Uncover the Relationship Between Light and Lupus
A Minnesota team has established a novel light-sensing medical device that will allow doctors to gain essential insights into how light exposure influences disease flare-ups. In a research paper published in July 2022 in the journal Advanced Science, the team describes how it developed the novel device, for which it has filed a patent.
Dr. David Pearson of the University of Minnesota Medical School and the study’s co-author notes how difficult it is to predict when a patient with lupus will experience symptom flare-ups.
Research has shown that UV light and sometimes visible light can trigger flare-ups, both of skin symptoms and internal symptoms. However, until now, how different combinations of wavelengths contribute to each individual’s symptoms has been unknown.
This challenge led Pearson and his team to work on their light-sensing 3D-printed device, inspired by the customized 3D-printing of wearable devices created by Professor Michael McAlpine, whom Pearson contacted to collaborate on this project.
McAlpine and his team worked alongside Pearson to produce a novel 3D-printed device with a flexible UV-visible light detector. The first-of-its-kind light-sensing device has an integrated portable console that can continuously monitor and correlate light exposure to symptoms when placed on the skin.
The device builds on previous work led by McAlpine, which established a 3D printed light-emitting device. In the current project, the team evolved this device to receive rather than emit light. Light received can then be measured and correlated with the patient's symptoms and flare-ups.
The team now has the approval to commence testing on human participants. The device has been proven to work in the lab, but the next step will be demonstrating its efficacy in real life. Human studies will likely see participants wear the device daily to track light exposure correlated with symptom flare-ups. Human studies will likely help the team tweak and improve the device.
Since 3D printing has become cost-effective in recent years, the device is positioned to offer a relatively cheap and accessible route to access personalized medicine for lupus. Currently, there are no other competing devices on the market with equivalent potential for personalization and easy manufacture. Personalization is predicted to be a key trend in medicine. This novel offering from Pearson and his team will likely play an essential role in opening up the possibility of personalized medicine to patients with lupus.
References and Further Reading
Kuechle, M.K., Elkon, K.B. (2007) Shining light on lupus and UV. Arthritis Res Ther 9,101. https://doi.org/10.1186/ar2100
Ouyang, X., Su, R., Ng, D., Han, G., Pearson, D. and McAlpine, M. (2022) 3D Printed Skin‐Interfaced UV‐Visible Hybrid Photodetectors. Advanced Science, 9(25), p.2201275. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/advs.202201275
Lupus Foundation of America. UV exposure: What you need to know [online]. Available at: https://www.lupus.org/resources/uv-exposure-what-you-need-to-know (Last accessed September 2022)
Lupus Foundation of America. (2021) Healthcare Costs Rise as Lupus Disease Activity Increases [online]. Available at: https://www.lupus.org/news/healthcare-costs-rise-as-lupus-disease-activity-increases (Last accessed September 2022)
Science Daily. (2022) Unique light-sensing 3D-printed device could help people with lupus. [online]. Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/09/220908112326.htm (Last accessed September 2022)