Healthcare Technology Featured Article

August 05, 2015

3D Printer Successfully Makes Pharmaceuticals, FDA Approves

We all knew that 3D printing had a huge number of applications, and its healthcare uses were almost as surprising as they were plentiful in nature. We've watched in something like amazement as these devices churned out prosthetic devices, and even actively saved lives in some cases. But now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a medical first: an epilepsy drug called Spritam, made entirely on a 3D printer.

Spritam—a product of pharmaceutical firm Aprecia—involves taking the drug in its powdered form and using that powder in a 3D printer to create thin layer upon thin layer of the powder, binding that powder together, and then blowing away excess, likely to be recollected and used later. Since the drug is essentially just stacks of bound powder, reports suggest that the pill will actually dissolve faster in a human body, and thus deliver its effects more rapidly. This is also a help for those actively suffering seizures, as previously such were treated with larger pills that were hard to swallow. Better yet, doctors are welcoming this new method as it ensures the pills will be uniformly sized, and one dose will be the same as any other.

Indeed, tests of the so-called Aprecia “ZipDose” show the medication mostly dissolved before an over-the-counter “fast melt” dose can even be fully saturated with liquid. That's got some wondering if this particular manufacturing method could be put to use elsewhere and make other drugs that dissolve supremely quickly into a user's system.

This isn't the first time 3D printing has been put to use in healthcare settings, and it likely won't be the last. We've already seen 3D printing make prosthetic devices more rapidly, less expensively, and sometimes even better than some commercially-made equivalents. Earlier this year, we saw Miami surgeons bring a 3D printed model of a human heart to a surgery on a four-year-old girl, and with that model in place, doctors managed to pull off a surgery that had never been tried before. Doctors already reportedly put to use a 3D printing repository of tool designs, and there's work going on 3D printed ears, skin, tracheas, bones, and even entire kidneys.

3D printing is far from new in medicine, but this new use just shows how far this can go. I'm already wondering if something like this would work out well for aspirin, or antacids, everyday over-the-counter stuff that might well be made even better by a 3D printing process that makes it absorb faster into a human system and deliver its effects more rapidly. Could it be used in hospitals as part of a new breed of rapid anesthetic? Could it be part of a new ultra-dose vitamin treatment? There are a lot of possibilities with something like this, and now that the FDA has approved one part of it, more uses should become available.

Once again, 3D printing has shown us its value in the medical field, as it has done in others. While this technology is taking its time in finding a market, it's a safe bet that the medical field will keep finding new uses for this technology. Other fields, meanwhile, likely won't be far behind.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

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