Additive manufacturing has been credited with making innovation possible within an untold number of industries, and the medical and healthcare sectors are no exception. These industries have witnessed incredible advancements thanks to 3D printing technology, however, there are plenty of potential applications still left to be explored and universally implemented.
From operating theatres through to hospital wards, 3D printed parts are becoming more and more abundant. Additive manufacturing has already helped surgeons to successfully separate conjoined twins, whilst completely bespoke prosthetics have improved quality of life for millions of people worldwide. Amongst the thousands of potential uses for 3D printing within the medical sphere is the possibility that we could soon see 3D printed pills in circulation, but what implications does this have on the quality of healthcare we receive?
The Benefits of 3D Printed Pills:
One pill could be 3D printed to contain a combination of different medications tailored to the individual
The main benefit that additive manufacturing offers is a higher degree of customisation and the same can be said for the development of 3D printed medication. Patients with more than one condition often have to remember to take multiple pills to specifically combat each of their ailments, which can significantly disrupt daily life and hold routines hostage to a medicinal timetable. Moreover, current medications are not designed to take the needs of each individual into account; whilst they are prescribed in such a way that avoids toxicity and adverse reactions between drugs, they can still present the patient with a number of unwelcome side effects. Additive manufacturing offers pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals the scope to completely customise medication according to the individual, which would greatly improve the quality of healthcare on offer.
In addition, it would remove the need for patients to remember to take multiple pills to manage their conditions. Instead, one pill could be 3D printed to contain a combination of different medications tailored to the individual, resulting in a simplified schedule for the patient and reduced chance of medications being taken incorrectly.
READ: 3D Printing Helps to Separate Conjoined Twins
3D Printed Supplements:
These concepts have the power to completely change the way we treat and manage co-existing conditions.
Although the use of 3D printing within the pharmaceutical sector is ever-growing, we are still some way from seeing it introduced as a mainstream concept. However, 3D-printed supplements are already on the market and available for purchase, adopting additive manufacturing technology to provide a customised service and direct access to the micronutrients an individual requires.
One such company offering 3D printed consumable vitamins is Nourished. Customers are required to answer a quick questionnaire regarding their overall health, diet and activity levels, before being matched with several different supplements to improve their health and wellbeing. These ingredients are then 3D printed into one daily supplement, which takes the form of a gummy sweet with a choice of sweet or sour flavours.
Nourished's adoption of additive manufacturing to produce a tailored product with the overall aim of optimising their customers' health offers a glimpse into the potential future of the pharmaceutical industry. These concepts have the power to completely change the way we treat and manage co-existing conditions - especially those which require a cocktail of prescription medicines to keep in check.
READ: Additive Manufacturing & the Medical Industry
Pharmaceutical Printing Technology:
A lot of headway has been made in introducing 3D printing into the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry.
Producing medicines via additive manufacturing works in much the same way that other products are 3D printed. The drug first needs to be made into a filament, which is then extruded through the nozzle of the printer. The pill is then built layer by layer to achieve the finished product - as with Nourished's product design, each layer could include a different drug to condense multiple medications into one pill.
This is certainly an exciting concept and a lot of headway has been made in introducing 3D printing into the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. UK biotech company FabRx have recently developed a 3D printer which is dedicated to the area of pharmaceutical manufacturing. The M3DIMAKER allows medicines to be printed to spec via multiple nozzles. These nozzles can be changed in accordance with dosage requirements, affording users a high degree of customisation. In addition, FabRx also offers pharmaceutical manufacturing using fused deposition modeling and stereolithography, meaning that a wide range of drugs can be manufactured from their filament form.
READ: 5 Surprising Items That Can Be 3D Printed
Are 3D-Printed Pills Imminent?
Additive manufacturing could revolutionise pharmaceutical manufacturing like never before.
A number of well-known pharmaceutical companies are currently exploring the possibility of introducing 3D printing as a viable alternative to traditional production methods. The benefits of personalised medication that additive manufacturing offers cannot be cast aside; instead, the pharmaceutical industry is set to adapt in line with the latest technological advancements.
Simply put: this technology does exist and it is currently being used, however, healthcare infrastructure may need to be overhauled before it is adopted on a widespread commercial scale. Nonetheless, additive manufacturing could revolutionise pharmaceutical manufacturing like never before, giving us access to personalised medications, reducing side effects and improving quality of life for millions of people worldwide.