Some of the most impressive achievements in 3D printing so far have happened in the field of medicine. Fully customized casts, implants, medical supplies and braces have all been created using the technology, helping people get well in ways that wouldn't have been possible before. And humans aren't the only ones benefiting, even animals have received 3D-printed treatment.
The technology is finding its way into labs and hospitals around the world, so it only makes sense that medical organizations would start heavily vetting its potential. At this year's American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions conference, researchers discussed how the tech could help in the delivery of medicine.
Researchers from Wake Forest University, Columbia University and University of North Carolina presented a prototype 3D printer software that could create customized pills for patients requiring medication. The team designed an algorithm that adjusts dosages based on factors like a patient's weight, race, kidney and liver functions. These factors can all change the effectiveness of a drug and even lead to detrimental side effects, but can't always be accounted for when using pre-formulated medicines.
Based on a patient's individual medical and biological information, the software calculates the appropriate dose and then generates the 3D printer data. In testing, the researchers created customized profiles that resulted in five different doses of 80 total printed pills using a testing material. The pills ranged from 124 milligrams to 373 mg and were all accurate dosages with very little variability.
The study proved that 3D printing could be used to personalize pills and that a future of more effective drug treatment with fewer side effects is possible, but printed pills will still be a few years off. The researchers now need to develop a standard adjustment for different drugs and come up with the most cost-effective and safe printing techniques before any patients down them with a glass of water.