3D printing is still a new technology in itself, allowing anyone with a 3D printer to print out actual objects instead of documents and flat images. But it has crossed the threshold of another whole new industry: medicine. If hospitals and outpatient facilities could 3D print their own pharmaceuticals it could change the way medicines are prescribed, allowing the ingredients to be altered and reformulated to meet individual patient’s needs. And over the counter products, herbal and vitamin supplements, could potentially be printed by everyday people, reducing the need to go to drug stores and find the right product. People could simply find the right mix for their personal symptoms, as opposed to one size fits all formulas.
With today’s production methods, it’s impossible for any manufacturers to produce specialized formulas per patient’s needs. So up until now companies have always created one formula, possibly in different dose amounts, but overall the same formula for all persons with the related symptoms to use. While generally safe this method ignores how each individual reacts to substances differently, the medicines which work well for some may have no effect on others, while still others may have negative side effects, or even allergic reactions to any of the ingredients. All people are at their core the same, human, but just as every person has their own individual personality every person’s body reacts to things in its own way.
But imagine a method of diagnosis and treatment that involved what the individual’s body responds well to and in what amounts, leading to personalized solutions to health problems and a higher chance of effective treatment, sooner. This is a very possible future if 3D printing of medicine and supplements becomes common practice. Medical devices produced by 3D printing have already been approved by the FDA, allowing devices such as prosthetics, implants, and replica teeth to be printed at a much lower cost than previously. Usually 3D printers work by creating objects layer by layer by producing polymers and forming them into shapes, for medicines they would do the same but with pharmaceutical compounds instead.
On August 3rd 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first pill made with 3D printing, a prescription drug called Spritam (levetiracetam) which helps seizures caused by epilepsy in both children and adults. The drug is a porous pill which quickly dissolves when taken with a sip of liquid, allowing for rapid absorption. Each pill that is printed can be adjusted by dose or composition. With the approval of Spritam the door has been opened to the possibility of countless more drugs and supplements being produced via 3D printing and made customize-able for individual patients.
Should 3D printing be used to start personalizing the way medicines are prescribed and supplements utilized, or will it cause new problems of its own? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
By Samantha Dillon, DR Vitamin Solutions