Vehicle parts, guns and even food can be 3D printed. Now add medicine to the list of varied products that can be additively manufactured.
University of Michigan researchers adapted the organic vapor-jet printing technology used in electronics manufacturing to print multiple medications into a single dose on a dissolvable strip, microneedle patch or other dosing device. The technology prints a very fine crystalline structure over a large surface area, which helps printed medications dissolve more easily. The process may pave the way to a variety of potential new drugs that today are shelved because they don't dissolve well when administered with conventional approaches, including pills and capsules.
"A doctor or pharmacist can choose any number of medications, which the machine would combine into a single dose," said Max Shtein, professor of materials science and engineering. "The machine could be sitting in the back of the pharmacy or even in a clinic."
The active pharmaceutical ingredient is heated and evaporated to combine it with a stream of heated, inert gas like nitrogen. The evaporated medication and the gas travel through a nozzle pointed at a cooled surface on which the medication then condenses as a thin crystalline film. Film formation can be tightly controlled by fine-tuning the printing process, which requires no solvents, no additives and no post-processing.
Control over solubility may also be useful later in the drug testing process, when potential new drugs are applied to cultured cells in a lab. Currently, most compounds must be dissolved in a chemical solvent before they're applied to cells. The new technique could enable printed medications to dissolve easily in the water-based medium used to culture cells, without the need for a solvent.
The printing scheme may also find applications in drug testing and characterization studies performed by pharmaceutical companies prior to clinical trials.