Interview with Dr. Rao Bezwada: Absorbable Polymers for 3D Printing

Dr. Rao Bezwada

An accomplished scientist and entrepreneur, Rao S. Bezwada, Ph.D. established Bezwada Biomedical, an innovation-based and technology-driven research company, in 2003. The company is focused on developing a wide range of novel absorbable polymeric biomaterials to enhance quality of life by producing next-generation bioabsorbable medical devices with therapeutic applications. Dr. Bezwada earned a doctorate in chemistry from the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey and has over 40 years of research experience in the medical device industry, including 20 years of service at Ethicon, Inc. (a Johnson & Johnson Company).  While at Ethicon, Dr. Bezwada’s research and development efforts led to the launch of a number of products, including Monocryl®, a new ultra-pliable synthetic absorbable monofilament suture. This product has represented worldwide sales of more than two (2) billion dollars since its launch in 1993 and current annual sales of over 100 million dollars. In recognition of this invention, along with its development, Johnson & Johnson, Inc. awarded Dr. Bezwada the prestigious Johnson Medal in 1996. Dr. Bezwada has been a prolific inventor and has been issued more than 135 U.S. patents on absorbable polyurethanes, absorbable amino acid polymers, absorbable polyester amides, absorbable polyoxaesters, and controlled-release polymers.  FDA-approved products such as MONTAGE® Putty, MONTAGE Fast Set Putty, Montage Flowable Putty, and PERMATAGE Putty, marketed by Abyrx for wound healing and bone applications, are based on Bezwada Biomedical’s absorbable polyurethane technology. Dr. Bezwada has also pioneered specialty bio-inks for 3D printing applications. In addition to his passion for science and technical accomplishments, Dr. Bezwada has also established a non-profit organization, Society for Basic Needs, in India. This organization has a mission aimed at improving the quality of life for those less fortunate by providing them with essential amenities and opportunities for health and education. Dr. Bezwada will be speaking at the upcoming virtual event focusing on Bioinks Biomaterials for 3D Printing and Bioprinting.

When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? 

Rao: I first learned about the power of 3D printing about 3-4 years ago while discussing absorbable polymer requirements with a customer. They were developing a 3D-printed face shield and were looking for better-performing polymer inks.

What inspired you to start your research in 3D printing?

Rao: While discussing this customer’s application, it occurred to me that the absorbable polymers I have been developing over the last few decades, could be great alternatives to the PEG acrylates researchers were using. This realization kickstarted several research projects at our company and collaborations that helped us develop our current absorbable polymer platforms for 3D printing and bioprinting.

Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing? 

Rao: My very first inspiration about 3D printing was a talk given by Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics. Listening to her vision and motivation to bio print artificial lungs to help her daughter and other people in need was truly inspiring and moving. It just opened my eyes about the huge impact bioprinting could have on patients’ lives.

What motivates you the most for your work?

Rao: I came to the realization that I could contribute all my absorbable polymer expertise into this new field of bioprinting and really make a difference. Helping customers develop life-saving medical devices and artificial organs has become my life’s work.

What is the biggest obstacle in your line of work? 

Rao: Surprisingly, the biggest obstacle has been customers’ limited knowledge about absorbable polymers. We often provide polymers to companies who sell 3D printers, and their expertise is building the printers, not biomaterials. Most customers are only familiar with hydrogels when it comes to absorbable polymers as bioinks, so we have tried to develop educational materials and raise awareness about all the biomaterial options researchers have in our 3D printing technology platforms.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in 3D printing?

Rao: Bioprinting is still in its early stages. Growing cells in safe and biocompatible materials with specific attributes depending on the application is hard. That’s the challenge we’re trying to help overcome, providing absorbable polymers with tunable physical, mechanical, and biological properties and controllable hydrolysis rate. 

If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be?

Rao: My first wish would be for our unique absorbable polyurethane technology to be discovered and used in more medical device designs. I believe it is a hidden gem that can address many of the limitations of existing absorbable biomaterials.

My second wish would be for more researchers in the field to develop a broader knowledge of biomaterials so they can make more informed decisions in their materials choices.

And my third wish would be for the dream to come true: to finally see 3D printed organs and tissues available to patients worldwide!

What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”?

Rao: This advice is what I share with interns and new hires at my company. Go deep in your knowledge and study topics in depth. Don’t be a superficial learner; go beyond your immediate research topics. The benefits will be many.

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