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Materials and Cost Benchmarking

3-D Printing Customized Pills for Medical Patients

27 May 2016

Patients who suffer from multiple ailments are tasked with the daily chore of ingesting multiple medications. What if all of those medications could be designed into one tablet?

A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has figured out a way to personalize medicine in a simpler and more cost-effective way.

The team, led by Assistant Professor Soh Siow Ling and PhD student Ms. Sun Yajuan from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the NUS Faculty of Engineering, developed a tablet fabrication method that can make customizable pills that release drugs with any desired release profiles.

Drug-infused polymers have different profiles for customized release rates and dosages. (Image via NUS) Drug-infused polymers have different profiles for customized release rates and dosages. (Image via NUS)

Releasing drugs in a timely manner is important because different types of clinical circumstances may call for different types of time-release drugs.

This is not the first time researchers have tried to produce personalized pills, or even implemented 3-D printing. However those previously developed methods have limitations, such as low dosage, release profiles that are non-continuous, the drugs are released in a large burst in the initial stage, and poor durability of the tablet given its quick breakdown.

“For a long time, personalized tablets have been a mere concept as it was far too complex or expensive to be realized. This new tablet fabrication method is a game changer—it is technically simple, relatively inexpensive and versatile. It can be applied at individualized settings where physicians could produce customized pills on the spot for patients, or in mass- production settings by pharmaceutical companies,” said Ling.

The team’s approach is similar to that of 3-D printing, but instead of manufacturing the drug tablet layer by layer, the drug tablet consists of three distinct components, including a polymer containing the drug in a specifically designed shape that will determine the rate of release of the drug.

For instance, a five-prong shape will allow the drug to be released in five pulses over time. By adjusting the shape of the polymer, it is thus possible to release drugs at any desired rate.

How it works. (Image via NUS) How it works. (Image via NUS)

To personalize a tablet, a doctor would only need to create the desired release profile in a computer software program to generate a template for making tablets specific to a patient’s treatment. That profile can then be used to produce the desired pills using a 3-D printer. The system does not involve complex mathematical computation whenever a new release profile is needed, and it is able to create a template to print tablets for any release profile.

Printing pills can be done using a commercial 3-D printer, so the method proves to be relatively inexpensive in comparison to conventional tablet production or other methods in making small shapes, such as photolithography.

The fabrication method developed by the team can be modified to include multiple types of drugs loaded within the same tablet. More importantly, each drug can be customized to release at different rates—even within the same tablet.

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