One pill to rule them all: 3D printing tech combines multiple drugs in a single pill

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Various components of the new time-release medication system(Credit: NUS)

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Remembering to take a pill once daily can be hard enough, but it gets particularly challenging when you have to take several doses throughout the day – especially if you're taking multiple types of medication. To make things easier, scientists at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a new technique that uses a 3D printer to combine multiple doses of different medications in a single time-release tablet.

First of all, it should be noted that other researchers have previously created 3D-printed time-release tablets, which were built up in a printer a layer at a time. According to the university, however, these tablets are limited both in the strength of dosages, and in how continuously they dispense medication once ingested. The NUS system reportedly has neither of these drawbacks, plus it should be relatively quick and inexpensive to use.

Here's how it works – or at least, how it would work in a clinical setting …

The doctor starts by indicating on a computer program what medication(s) the patient needs to take, in what doses and how often. This information is used to generate a computer model of a small multi-pronged template, such as the one being picked up with the tweezers in the photo at the top of the page.

That model is sent to a 3D printer, that creates a mold of the template and a non-toxic liquid polymer mixed with the medication is then poured into that mold, creating a positive cast of the template. That cast is then encased in more polymer, although this time without any medication added.

When swallowed, the outer protective layer of polymer gradually erodes, revealing the drug-infused polymer underneath. Depending on the shape of the template, different parts of it are revealed at different times, releasing medication as they are. The pictured five-pronged design, for instance, would release medication in five time-separated stages – and not all of the prongs would have to contain the same type of medication.

The technology was developed by Prof. Soh Siow Ling and PhD student Sun Yajuan, who are currently in talks with a multinational corporation regarding commercialization.

Source: NUS

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