Medicine is one of the more exciting fields that 3D printing promises to radically innovate. Doctors have already used the technology to help repair damaged airways in children with a 3D-printed splint, but researchers in the pharmaceutical field have instead been dabbling with custom-shaped pills optimised for every patient’s treatment needs.
Drugmakers currently mass-produce pills in the most common dosage sizes and in simple round shapes that are easy to swallow. But researchers at the UCL School of Pharmacy, University College London, have been experimenting with using 3D printers, extruding a water-soluble polymer mixed with paracetamol and salts, to produce custom pills of various shapes and sizes.
Instead of requiring patients to take a set number of pills repeatedly throughout the day, the research could one day result in pharmacies using 3D printers to make custom pills of the exact required dosage. But even more exciting was the researcher’s experiments with pills of different shapes and surface areas. It turns out that a pyramid-shaped pill is absorbed by the body the fastest, while a cylinder-shaped pill takes much longer.
One day, pills might be not only customised based on a patient’s dosage requirements, they could also be shaped depending on if the medication needs to be quickly absorbed into their bloodstream, or if a slower, steady release of the drug is a more effective treatment. Now if they could only improve how they tasted.