Jun 18, 2015 | By Simon

Along with revolutionizing how doctors are approaching modern day surgery and bioengineers are finding new ways of building cells structures, 3D printing has been having a dramatic effect on the pharmaceutical side of the medical industry, too.  

Just last month, we heard about how a group of researchers from the University College London’s School of Pharmacy explored the effects of geometry on drug release on tablets that have been 3D printed - with the goal of producing a variety of different shaped tablets which would be difficult to produce using the traditional powder compaction manufacturing method.  To create these non-traditional shapes, the researchers used a combination of hot melt extrusion and 3D printing as a method of fabrication.  

“The future of medicine design and manufacture is likely to move away from mass production of tablets/capsules of limited dose range towards extemporaneous fabrication of unit dosage forms of any dose, personalised to the patient,” said the researchers in their report for the International Journal of Pharmaceutics.

Now, less than two months after publishing their findings, it appears that the researchers were certainly onto something.  

This time, the school turned their attention away from more traditional powder-based tablets and chose to focus on the near-future of liquid-based tablets.  Based on their findings, it may even be possible for doctors to one day email patients a dosage that can be 3d printed into a specific shape at home - such as dinosaurs or elephants for young patients.   

In a recently successful trial that  was documented in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics the team from UCL's School of Pharmacy were able to create a number of ‘liqui-gel’ tablets of different sizes and doses that were printed using a water-soluble form of plastic that’s often used for washing machine or dishwasher ‘pods’.  

To create the custom tablets, the liquid drug (for the experiment, it was an orange dye) is ‘loaded’ into the printed plastic material which subsequently absorbs it and creates a pill of a predetermined shape.  

Because most drugs can be converted into a liquid form, this new method of custom fabricating pills and tablets could extend to all medicines and even vitamins in the not-too-distant future.   

According to  Dr. Simon Gaisford, who heads the School of Pharmaceutics at UCL, while this form of medicine fabrication could - in theory - be done in the home environment similar to today’s existing desktop 3D printers, it is likely to first be used in existing hospitals and pharmacies first.  Currently, Gaisford and his team are seeking investors to help launch their company, FabRx, which will utilize the technology.  

“3D printing is so cheap that potentially you could put a 3D printer into a hospital pharmacy and the doctor could print just a week's worth of tablets with the right dose for a particular patient,” he says.  

In contrast, Gaisford compares the new development to existing forms of manufacturing where millions of tablets of the same dose are created in each production run despite not being the exact dose that some consumers need based on their conditions and/or body weight.  

Currently, Gaisford and his colleagues are working with the Great Ormond Street Hospital to further develop customized drugs for children who have undergone transplant surgery.

“Because a child is always growing, following transplantation the dose they need is constantly changing, literally week to week,” adds Gaisford.  

“Children don't like taking medicine … now, in principle, we could ask a child, ‘What's your favourite animal?’ and print the tablet in any shape and colour they like.”

Although there’s still no word regarding when we might be able to see the first releases of the custom-fabricated medicine designs, it’s certainly a great sign of what’s to come in the near future of medicine thanks to the capabilities of additive manufacturing technologies. 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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