Pohang University of Science and Technology
Gyeongbuk, Korea

Radiation esophagitis, characterized by the inflammation of the esophagus, is the most common acute adverse effect of radiation therapy that causes swallowing problems. This eventually causes dehydration and leaves the body unfit for further treatment. Unfortunately, no direct cure currently exists for patients suffering from such conditions.

To address this condition, a research team used 3D printers to develop esophageal stents that biodegrade in the body, opening up the possibility of treating the condition. Stents are structures made of metal or polymer used to expand and maintain a narrowed area into a constant volume of space.

A joint research team led by Professor Dong-Woo Cho and PhD candidate Suhun Chae in the department of mechanical engineering at Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) and Dr. Dong-Heon Ha of EDmicBio, Inc. has together produced biodegradable stents with esophageal-derived bioink to directly treat radiation esophagitis and verified their therapeutic effects in animal models.

How It Works

The research findings were recently published in Biomaterials, an academic journal with international authority in the biomaterials field.1 According to the paper, “Through the delivery of the hydrogel with stent platform, we aimed to evaluate the regenerative capacity of a tissue-specific decellularized extracellular matrix (dECM) hydrogel on damaged tissues. For this, an esophagus-derived dECM (EdECM) was developed and shown to have superior biofunctionality and rheological properties, as well as physical stability, potentially providing a better microenvironment for tissue development. An EdECM hydrogel-loaded stent was sequentially fabricated using a rotating rod combined 3D printing system that showed structural stability and protected a loaded hydrogel during delivery. Finally, following stent implantation, the therapeutic effect of EdECM was examined in a radiation esophagitis rat model.”

Various treatment methods are being developed to treat cancer, but radiation therapy is still one of the common treatments along with surgery and chemotherapy. If radiation esophagitis occurs during radiation therapy, treatment is limited to cataclysmic therapy that relieves the pain depending on the symptoms that appear or inserting a stent to open the swollen esophagus to allow drinking or eating. However, these methods do not treat the damaged tissues directly.

The research team first produced bioink that removed cell components from esophageal tissues and extracted only extracellular matrix through the decellularization process. They produced a dumbbell-type stent that can carry this bioink using a 3D printing system. By inserting this stent into the inflamed esophagus of an animal, they confirmed that it promotes tissue regeneration while mitigating inflammatory reactions.

“The effectiveness of treatment is negated if proper nutrition cannot be delivered due to the pain,” explains Dong-Woo Cho, who led the study. He adds, “If this esophageal stent implantation is applied clinically, we expect that the patients will have better prognosis and higher quality of life.”

This research was conducted as part of the Research Leader Program the National Research Foundation of Korea and in cooperation with EDmicBio, Inc., which specializes in commercializing 3D organs-on-chips and medical devices.


  1. Dong-Heon Ha et al., “Therapeutic effect of decellularized extracellular matrixbased hydrogel for radiation esophagitis by 3D printed esophageal stent,” Biomaterials, Vol. 266, January 2021.

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