The World’s First 3D Printed Pill Opens Doors to New Opportunities
We have all heard of the amazing things that 3D printing has done for the world in several different sectors, such as printed houses, car parts, rocket parts, prosthetics, etc., and this is just the beginning. The first 3D printed drug in the world also didn’t take too long to arrive, and as soon as that was approved, it just went to show just how much of a potential rapid prototyping just has to offer to the world.
FDA’s approval for the world’s first 3D printed pill is all it took for a whole new era of medicine to begin. Aprecia, which is a pharmaceutical company based in Ohio, printed the first drug to control epileptic seizures. The drug is created with the company’s trademark technology, “ZipDose”, meaning that the pill was printed in such a way that is it a lot more porous. This structure has its own major advantage, making higher doses a lot easier to swallow compared to a conventional tablet, as it dissolves faster when it comes in contact with water. In other words, the medicine will dissolve in the patient’s mouth as soon as they sip a little liquid.
The printer that is used by Aprecia is quite similar to a 3D sand printer. The printer works by laying down the pill in a fine layer of power and then using the printer head to run over it, dropping small amounts of binding agents into the powder. The process is repeated for as long as it takes the pill to form completely.
The rapid prototyping services allow medicines to be packaged in the precise doses and a lot more tightly, which points towards a bright future for this technology, as it would allow one to print personalized medicines as well. The medicines could be tailor made for certain patients, for instance, which could work better than just administering standardized doses for each and every patient.
Medicines are generally manufactured in factories and shipped to hospitals, but now, with the use of 3D printers, patients can receive tablets that are a lot closer to their needs. The software would only need a little adjusting before printing, which would allow them to administer precise doses to their individual patients, a process that would’ve been extremely expensive otherwise.
Additionally, this technology for porous pills could also be used on other drugs. Many patients, for instance, have a hard time following a specific treatment regiment, and whether a patient has a swallowing disorder or is a child who does not want to take his/her medicines, it can be a challenge to make the patients adhere to the daily routine. This is especially true for seniors and children, and yet, it is extremely important for them to take their prescribed medicines as they’re supposed to in order to manage their disease. The technology could ensure that all the other medicines are a lot easier to swallow, which could, potentially, make the process of taking daily medicines a little easier.
Although 3D printing has already been embraced in many other fields of medicine, such as printing new jawbones for facial reconstruction, dental implants or custom shaped teeth, and creating personalized prosthetics, medicines have been produced with this technology for the first time ever, but by the looks of it, it certainly won’t be the last time.
An increasing amount of research is being done in this field, for instance, researchers are now developing a technique that would allow printed pills to have different shapes. From pyramids to donuts, a technique called “hot melt extrusion” is being used. Although such a method would have been difficult to execute with the standard techniques of production, 3D printing has now made it possible and will allow the drugs to be released at different rates. The researchers have discovered that the reason why different shapes would require different times is because the rate of release depends on the ratio of surface area-to-volume and not on the surface area itself. For example, if a pill is pyramid-shaped, it would release slower than a drug shaped as a sphere or a cube, which allows the control of absorption.
The technology introduced by Spritam allows 3D printing to change the pill’s physical structure, but it doesn’t just end there. Other researchers, on the other hand, are trying to use this technology to try and change the pills at the molecular level. A Professor at Glasgow University, Dr. Lee Cronin, has developed a “chemputer”, which allows one to produce different molecules by creating chemical reactions. He states that this process is no different than what Apple has done for music, meaning that there might come a time in the future where patients would be able to get the drug “recipes” the same way one would download music, and print the drugs at home. According to him, one wouldn’t need to buy drugs anymore, just blueprints and apps would suffice.
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