Could 3D Printing be the Future of Medicine?

The British biotech company FabRx developed a technology allowing to 3D-print personalized pills for children with a metabolic disorder.

Everyone who has to take medication everyday knows how difficult it is to think about it and how it feels to forget it. If the disease the medication is needed for is chronic, it’s even more challenging. At this point 3D printing could help.

FabRx Ltd., a biotech company from Great Britain, invented personalized 3D-printed medicine for children with a rare metabolic disorder called maple syrup urine disease (MSUD). The 3D-printed pills are called “Printlets”. With the help of this propriety, Printlets technology FabRx is able to produce individualized medicine, which is available in different dosages, shapes and sizes. Researchers from the University College London (UCL), the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC) and the USC University Hospital Complex (CHUS) conducted a human clinical study on the Printlets. The results were quite instructive: Compared to conventional treatments, the Printlets have a similar effectiveness with higher patient acceptance at the same time.

Maple Syrup Urine Disease

As an inherited genetic metabolic disorder MSUD is a life-long condition that often shows up right after birth. Patients cannot process certain proteins and amino acids which leads to symptoms such as vomiting, lethargy, slower development of body and mind and a sweet smell of the urine that gave the disease its name. It requires a lifelong and patient-specific therapy: Depending on the concentration of isoleucine in the patient’s blood, personalized doses of the relevant supplements, isoleucine and valine must be provided. The treatment is usually provided manually by the usual healthcare providers and in hospitals, which is very time-consuming, expensive and less efficient. For these reasons, MSUD was particularly suitable for the research and could therefore benefit well from the 3D printing technology. Now, with FabRx’s Printlet technology there’s an alternative for the preparation of tailored therapeutic dosages.

FabRx’ Printed Tablets: The Printlets

Based on the principle that every human being is different and thus needs a personal treatment, FabRx worked on their Printlets technology for more than 5 years at UCL’s Advanced 3D Printing Lab. For this purpose, a 3D printer was developed especially for the production of pharmaceutical products. In order to evaluate their 3D-printed tablets, FabRx conducted a research in which MSUD patients were monitored for 6 months. The results showed that the Printlets were as effective in controlling the blood levels of isoleucine of the patients as the traditional provided medicine. But it got even better because the isoleucine blood concentrations of the patients receiving the Printlets were closer to the target isoleucine level and showed less variation. Furthermore, providing Printlets with different colors and flavors showed a further positive impact on the patient’s acceptance of the treatment. Now the technology offers four different 3D printing methods to medicinal development.

Thanks to their special technology these Printlets come in all shapes and sizes. FabRx can even create pills that contain more than one medicine, called polypills, as well as chewable medicines that vary in shape, flavour and color, or tablets that are designed to dissolve rapidly in the mouth. Polypills contain up to 6 different drugs, each of them is represented in a different color. Another great advantage is the fast production of this special medicine: The 3D-printing process of the chewable medicine for example prepares round about 28 Printlets in less than 8 minutes. This corresponds a one month’s therapy for the treatment of MSUD.

Do you think that 3D printing could be the future of medicine and do you know other examples of 3D-printed pharmaceuticals?