Researchers Develop New Technology to Print Custom-Dosed Medications

This breakthrough could change how we ingest drugs in the future, and also prevent harmful side affects in mediations that don't dissolve very well.

A new study has found a way to print pure and exact customized doses of drugs. The technology could substantially change the medical industry by allowing on-site printing of custom dosed medication at institutions such as pharmacies, hospitals, and other places medication is distributed.

Researchers Develop New Technology to Print Custom-Dosed Medications
Source: Levi Hutmacher/Michigan Engineering

The technique can print an array of medications into one single dose on either a dissolvable strip, microneedle patch or any other form of dosing device. The researchers hope that this method could make life much easier for those who take multiple medications a day. Additionally, it could accelerate drug development.

“A doctor or pharmacist can choose any number of medications, which the machine would combine into a single dose. The machine could be sitting in the back of the pharmacy or even in a clinic,” said lead author Max Shtein, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Michigan.

Shtein collaborated with Olga Shalev, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan on the project. They also found that the pure printed medication can destroy cultured cancer cells as effectively as medication delivered intravenously, this process usually relies on chemical solvents to enable cells to absorb the drug.

The team of researchers created this technology by adapting one used by electronics manufacturers called organic vapor-jet printing. It’s a useful tool for creating printed medication because it can print a very fine crystalline structure over a large surface area. This helps the medicine dissolve easier. The breakthrough can also help new drugs, which have previously been shelved due to their inability to dissolve correctly, get onto the market.

Researchers Develop New Technology to Print Custom-Dosed Medications
Source: Michigan Engineering/YouTube

“Pharma companies have libraries of millions of compounds to evaluate, and one of the first tests is solubility,” Shtein says. “About half of new compounds fail this test and are ruled out. Organic vapor jet printing could make some of them more soluble, putting them back into the pipeline.”

How do they do it?

A powder form of an active pharmaceutical ingredient is heated, it is then evaporated to combine with a stream of heated, inert gas like nitrogen. The evaporated form of the medication then moves through a nozzle pointed at a cool surface.

Researchers Develop New Technology to Print Custom-Dosed Medications
Source: Michigan Engineering/YouTube

The evaporated substance then condenses and attaches itself to the cooled surface, forming a crystalline film. The film can be controlled by fine-tuning the printing process. Overall, the entire procedure requires no solvents, additives or post-processing.

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“When researchers use solvents to dissolve drugs during the testing process, they’re applying those drugs in a way that’s different from how they would be used in people, and that makes the results less useful,” says Anna Schwendeman, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences and an author on the paper told Michigan News.

The future of printed drugs

Printing drugs for mass production is a long way away, but the team behind this invention hopes to explore additional applications for the technology and join forces with experts in pharmaceutical compound design.

The paper is titled "Printing of small molecular medicines from the vapor phase." The research was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility.

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