Is 3D printing the future of manufacturing medicine?

Why should your tablet look like a table? It could have the form of a zebra as well!

Imagine a paediatrician talking to a four-year-old child who is having trouble adjusting to taking daily doses of steroids after being diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy the previous month. “What’s your favourite animal?” she asks. “A zebra,” quietly replies the child, who we will call Sam. The paediatrician smiles as she makes a note on her office computer. “But not a black and white one, a blue and green one,” adds Sam, with a little more confidence. Later, the toddler watches with wide eyes as the uniquely coloured, zebra-like tablets appear from a three-dimensional (3D) printer in the hospital pharmacy.

This story may sound far-fetched, but 3D printing promises a future of drugs printed on demand, to custom doses, and the possibility that cost may no longer be a barrier to making niche medicines. And children could be among the patients to benefit most.

“This technology could revolutionise the way we look at children’s medicines, both in terms of what they take and the ability to keep changing the dose as they grow,” says Steve Tomlin, consultant pharmacist at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, UK. Having a 3D printer in a hospital pharmacy could make weekly medication changes simple, personalised, and even fun.

Tomlin explains that the enormous weight range among children — from about 0.5kg to 100kg — means that they all need different doses of their medicines. “Currently it is impossible to have a tablet on the market to suit every size of child. This is why we use liquid medicines for children,” he says. The popular belief that children will not or should not swallow pills is false, Tomlin adds. “Studies show that most four-year-olds would actually rather take tablets.”

A 3D printer works by adding materials layer by layer until a 3D shape emerges. So far, different ‘inks’ have been used to print everything from pizza to heart valves. If a 3D printer ink that is laced with a drug can be developed, then why not print tablets as well? Read more…..



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