Scientists May Be Able To Pack All Your Medications Into One “Personalized” Pill

And nine other things you never thought could be made on a 3D printer

Researchers in Singapore have been able to print the polymer components of a "personalized" pill. (National University of Singapore)
smithsonian.com

Those who have to take multiple medications know how hard it can be to keep track of which ones to swallow when. 

But what if you could combine them all in a single pill?

Scientists at the National University of Singapore say they have come up with a way to use a 3D printer to create a time-release tablet that combines multiple doses of different medications. It works by using polymers to separate the various drugs. The polymers dissolve, as programmed, and that releases the prescribed amount of each medication at the proper time. 

The shape of the polymer containing a medication determines how often it's released during the day. A five-pronged shape, for instance, allows the drug to be released at five different times.

One day, the researchers say, doctors could be creating these “personalized” pills in their offices. Here's how it would work. A doctor would input into a computer program which medications a patient needs, in what dosage, and how frequently. That creates a computer model of a small multi-pronged template, like those in the photo above.

That model is then sent to a 3D printer which makes a mold of the template. A liquid polymer is mixed with the medication and poured into the mold. That is encased in more polymer and that layer determines the release time for the various drugs. 

The scientists say they don't know when this magic pill will be available, but they are in talks with a large firm about bringing it to market.

This is just another example of how big an impact 3D printing is having on health care, manufacturing and technology. It still hasn't caught on with consumers—for years tech pundits have been predicting 3D printers would be the next hot household gadget. Clearly, that hasn't happened, for a number of reasons.

But inventors continue to find innovative, and sometimes groundbreaking, uses for the technology. Here are nine more new applications of 3D printing:

Yes, you can print a building

Check off another milestone for Dubai, the city in the United Arab Emirates known for its cutting-edge architecture. Officials there are lauding the opening of the first office building in the world made on a printer. It’s no skyscraper—just one story with floor space of 2,700 square feet—but it was built from special cement added, layer by layer, by a huge—20 by 120 by 40 feet—printer.

Printing the different sections of the building took 17 days, then they were assembled on the site. Total cost of the project was $140,000. It will become the temporary office of the Dubai Future Foundation.

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