“DON’T FORGET TO TAKE YOUR 3D-PRINTED MEDICINE, HONEY”. Everything from weapons to chocolate: 3D printing has taken over and made it possible to design and print complex objects in your own home. The controversial nature of printing weapons is undoubtedly understandable, while printing chocolate has long been a dream for “chocovores” . . . and now the application of 3D printing to pharmaceutical tablets could be a breakthrough for the ill. As we seem to have noticed in our articles, there is a great deal of innovation coming from the Uppsala University in Sweden, and this is no exception. Their 3D-printer allows for tablets to be manufactured and allows for the customization of size, dose and taste. In 10 years, similar upgraded models are predicted to be in our very homes . . .
We have all heard about the miracles of bioprinting – using 3D technology to layer living cells to create artificial tissues in a laboratory but applications of 3D-printing goes further than that: creating patient-specific organs for practice before complicated surgeries, printing surgical instruments themselves and printing prosthetic limbs. The potential is staggering, which is why it should not come as a surprise that 3D printing in the medical field will be valued as much as £3.5 billion by 2025. Universities around the world are preparing for these applications and are introducing courses related to 3D and bioprinting. Some are more prepared than others . . .
One step ahead . . .
In May of last year, Uppsala University’s medical faculty inaugurated a special 3D-LAB, which gives students free access to 3D printing and right after, the Department of Medical Cell Biology launched a new doctoral course titled: 3D Printing and Bioprinting in the Life Sciences which offers basic knowledge in the field [Source: Uppsala University Press]: “It is high time that Uppsala University’s doctoral students and students have the opportunity to approach the technology and discover the capacity it holds. Several leading American universities have already integrated the subject into their education, and we are meeting a huge interest”, says Olle Eriksson, who, together with Adam Engberg, runs 3D-LAB. While it is not due to these courses that the latest breakthrough has come, it certainly shows that Uppsala University stays on top of all the latest trends and technology and they are certainly taking big steps in innovation.
It started with a vision, and that vision may transform into something practical for the general population. A joint collaboration between Uppsala University and the Academic Hospital sought to produce medicine for seriously ill children and it was at the Biomedical Center in Uppsala where researchers steadily developed their own 3D printer which is able to print pharmaceutical tablets. Their technology makes it possible to customize the size, dose and taste of the tablets individually. They have described it as similar to a “coffee machine”, where various types of coffee can be made in your home. In the same way, their machine does the same but with medicine. Once in the home, the 3D printer must be properly programmed and is not something that you would do yourself and would link to an individualised system that makes sure you get the right dose. It\’s uncertain whether a chocolate-flavoured aspirin could be made, but at Evolvera, some of us hope it becomes possible. . .
. . . But is Uppsala the first to apply 3D to pharmaceutical tablets? Not quite: the very first 3D-printed medicine is Spritam which was made by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals based in Ohio, USA. According to the company, their 3D printer uses off-the-shelf parts with their own technology to manufacture Spritam and was the first FDA-approved (U.S Food and Drug Administration), 3D-printed drug in 2015. The drug itself controls seizures in relation to epilepsy. However, what is different in the case of Uppsala is that they are looking to take the concept of individualisation further and looking at it from a children’s perspective (as children need drugs at a lower dose than adults). Their 3D printer should simplify and ensure that a person gets the right dose of a specific medicine without first having to divide or crush it.
For patients to have 3D printers in their own homes is a great hope, but similarly a great challenge. Certain questions arise in terms of the safety risks – as the printer is shipped out to clinics, and (in the future) to homes of sick children, how can they make sure that it brings the desired results? One small error could cause complications but that could be said just about with any automated technology. We are starting to trust surgical robots, so why would this be different? For the moment, these aspects are being considered. Their hope is to be able to make the first launch of the 3D printer to the university hospitals in about five years but moving the technology to the rural hospitals and to the homes can then take up to ten years. We can add pharmaceutical tablets as yet another 3D-printed possibility.
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