NUS researchers unveil 3D-printed customised pills

SINGAPORE - National University of Singapore researchers have found a way to use 3D printers to create low-cost tablets that can be customised to a patient's needs.

Conventional tablets are only capable of a constant rate of release, requiring the patient to manually control the dosage and release rate by taking doses according to a schedule.

If a patient requires different drugs with different dosages and intervals, it can become inconvenient to keep track and potentially dangerous if they miss a dose.

The 3D-printed tablets can control the dosage and release rate of the drug according to the patient's needs.

The new customised tablet consists of a drug suspended in a natural medium known as a surface-eroding polymer. Depending on the shape, the drug can be customised to take on different release profiles such as constant release, pulsed release, increasing or decreasing release, and any arbitrary interval required by the patient.

A 3D printer is used to create silicone molds. A liquid containing the drug is then poured into the mold and cured. When solidified, the resulting pill is placed in a protective shell with one open face. The remaining space is then filled with a liquid which does contain the drug and the whole tablet is cured again.

Once consumed, the tablet dissolves layer by layer over time, releasing the drug at a controlled rate. The duration can be altered by changing the chemical composition of the liquid. Different drugs with different release profiles can also be combined in a single pill.

"Every single person is different, based on many factors such as genetics, age, body mass and so on. Different people also have different activity levels and consumption habits, which affect their needs," said Assistant Professor Soh Siow Ling, 38, who leads the project. "It is also not desirable to use the same drug to treat different illness which have similar apparent symptoms."

The commercially available printer used in the project costs $2,000. Professor Soh envisions that the low cost will allow it to be used in hospitals and neighbourhood clinics.

Last October, he and 28-year-old PhD student Ms Sun Yajuan published their findings in an issue of Advanced Materials, a peer-reviewed material science journal. A patent for the tablets was filed last year and they are currently in talks with multinational corporations and medical professionals to identify potential applications.