Technology: Soon, your pills will come out of a 3D printer
Imagine if you could combine the myriad of pills you need to take for your ailment in just one tablet; or if you need only to take the medication once a day and the drug will be slowly released throughout the day at different rates to treat your illness; or if doctors could easily make tablets on the spot that are tailored to each patient’s needs.
All these could become a reality with a new method of tablet fabrication designed by assistant professor Soh Siow Ling and PhD student Sun Yajuan from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the NUS Faculty of Engineering. The novel system can make customisable pills that release drugs with any desired release profiles.
A fully customisable fabrication method
“For a long time, personalised tablets has been a mere concept as it was far too complex or expensive to be realised. This new tablet fabrication method is a game changer – it is technically simple, relatively inexpensive and versatile. It can be applied at individualised settings where physicians could produce customised pills on the spot for patients, or in mass production settings by pharmaceutical companies,” said Soh.
Instead of manufacturing the drug tablet by printing layer by layer, the drug tablet designed by Asst Prof Soh and Ms Sun 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 5-prong shape will allow the drug to be released in five pulses over time. By adjusting the shape of the drug-containing polymer, it is thus possible to release drugs at any desired rate.
Using the system designed by the NUS team, a doctor only needs to draw the desired release profile in a computer software to generate a template for making tablets specific to a patient’s treatment, which can then be used to easily produce the desired pills using a 3D printer. The system is easy to use and does not involve any complex mathematical computation whenever a new release profile is needed. The fully customisable system is able to create a template to print tablets for any release profile.
Aside from exploring commercialisation possibilities, the NUS team is currently doing further work to explore the various combination of materials for the different polymer-based components in the tablet to cater to various types of drugs and illnesses to increase the efficacy of this method.