3D printing has made a major impact on the medical industry in a wide variety of ways — custom prosthetics, surgical implants, bioprinted tissue, and other areas.
3D printed pills are one of the newest advancements, already in development, which could help treat minor and major medical conditions, including epilepsy and chronic pain.
Of course, non-3D printed medications are already available for most major ailments. But what makes 3D printed pills such a great advancement is that they can be customized to individual patient needs, resulting in a medicine that is more effective and cheaper than its traditionally-manufactured counterparts.
Researchers have already managed to 3D print unique powder-based and liquid-based shapes for pills to make it easier for children to swallow them. Aprecia, a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company, also became the first company get FDA approval for a drug made by 3D printing. The medication is made to treat seizures in epileptic patients, and is designed to be more porous and potent that traditionally manufactured versions of the drug. Aprecia’s method creates pills that can disintegrate in under 10 seconds, making it easier for the body to absorb the drug.
Recent research out of Wake Forest University is also making innovative strides to advance 3D printed pills. They created a computer algorithm that could calculate dosages based on a patient’s biological and clinical parameters and design a pill suited for their unique needs. By creating such personalized pills, the algorithm can help increase drug accuracy and effectiveness, while also reducing negative side effects.
Many factors can affect a drug’s effectiveness with individual patients, including their weight, ethnic background, and organ functionality. No traditionally-produced medications take these factors into account, an approach that can sometimes cause more harm than good for patients.
The research from Wake Forest focused on tapping into these issues to develop highly personalized medicines. Known as “pharmacogenetics,” the research method hopes to enable the development of personalized drugs based on DNA information and other factors.
Min Pu, a professor of internal medicine, led the research team. She gave a presentation about the research to the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions (AHASS) in November, saying, “Our study uses the volume-concentration method to generate 3D-printed pills. What's different from current pharmaceutical industrials is that we use a computer algorithm to design and calculate dosages according to patients' biological and clinical parameters instead of using pre-determined dosages. Therefore, we can instantly create personalized pills. These personalized pills are then converted to 3D printable files and the pills can then be accurately printed using a 3D printer.”
Future scientific research into personalizing pills with 3D printing is likely on the horizon. Meanwhile, Aprecia Pharmaceuticals just announced it has received $35 million in investment funding to commercialize their drug, which we can expect will only serve to accelerate the development of 3D-printed pills by other pharmaceutical companies in the years to come.