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3D Printing Drugs and Personalized Medicine

Updated: Sep 4, 2022

3D printing technology is a powerful platform to facilitate and help pharmaceutical and medical companies to develop personalized treatments using specific drugs. In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a 3D-printed oral drug, the levetiracetam, which is indicated as a treatment for seizures. This medication was developed with a porous formulation that rapidly disintegrates with a sip of liquid to treat patients with swallowing disorders or children with problems in taking large pills. The emergence of third-generation 3D drug printing can boost the creation of new drugs with maximized efficacy and minimized toxicity, upgrading precision medicine practice [1,2].

Figure 1: The first 3D printed pill released: Spritam (levetiracetam) [3].

The primary purpose of drug development, besides increasing efficacy and decreasing the risk of adverse reactions, is achieving an advanced production of personalized medications. This can be done through the application of 3D printing, which enables the precise control of size and dose, high reproducibility, and the ability to produce dosage forms with complex drug-release profiles.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) developed a method involving 3D printing that allows several drugs to be placed in a single pre-designed pill, allowing the controlled release of each substance within one pill [3,4]. Due to the method’s simplicity, efficiency, and low cost, the system can be adapted by hospitals and other healthcare centers [5]. The technique proposed by the NUS Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering is based on the use of a computer program, which is responsible for controlling and organizing patient data about what medications to take, at what dosage, and how frequently. The data is sent to a 3D printer to mold a template with the inner cavity with different shapes. For preparing the drug tablets, a viscous liquid polymer - composed of carnauba wax, sodium alginate, croscarmellose sodium (CNa), and the drug - is heated to 82 °C. Then, the cavity of the mold is filled with the liquid mixture. That cast is then encased in more polymer; this process helps to determine the release time. Depending on the mold template fabricated by the 3D printer, the release of the medication occurs at different times [5,6].

A customizable oral delivery device with an adjustable drug release rate, resembling a mouthguard, was manufactured using 3D printing by Liang et al. (2018). The devices were fabricated using different polymer materials, which allowed the obtainment of tunable release rates by adjusting the composition [7]. The feasibility of the 3D printed drug delivery in the human system was demonstrated by evaluating the device’s performance in local environments. This proof-of-concept work is an example of the immense potential of 3D printing as a tool for the development and translation of next-generation drug delivery devices for personalized medicine [7,8].

Figure 2: Workflow for the manufacture of wearable personalized oral delivery mouthguards by 3D printing [7].


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