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.
So long to plaster casts?
A team of researchers from the University of Mexico has invented a cast for broken bones that could be a big improvement over the traditional ones made of plaster. The 3D-printed creation, called NovaCast, is 10 times lighter than the conventional model and allows much better ventilation, which could help prevent the infections and ulcers that can develop inside a plaster cast.
In time, say the NovaCast inventors, doctors would be able to print a customized cast for individual patients simply by entering certain data into the machine, so a 3D scan of the broken limb wouldn’t be necessary. Since the NovaCast is plastic, they point out that a person wouldn’t have to worry about getting it wet during a shower or bath. And, its lattice design provides another big advantage—you would be able to scratch an itch under the cast.
One drawback is that it now takes about three and a half hours to print a NovaCast. The researchers say they want to cut that down to an hour before releasing their invention commercially.
Making the shoe fit
Under Armour recently became the first sportswear company to start selling to consumers an athletic training shoe fashioned from 3D-printed pieces. Specifically, the shoe, called the UA Architech, features a printed midsole with a lattice design and an upper shoe with a pattern that stretches to better fit a person’s foot.
Under Armour released only 96 pairs to the public and, even at $299 per pair, they sold out in 19 minutes on the company’s website. This is seen as the first stage in the development of athletic shoes that are truly customized for a person, based on scans of his or her feet.
Soon after the Architech was unveiled, New Balance rolled out its own 3D-printed running shoe, and last month Hewlett-Packard announced that Nike has begun testing the world’s first 3D printer designed for large-scale manufacturing.
Researchers at MIT's Media Lab have developed a way to print artificial hair, with strands as small as 50 micrometers in diameter. They say the innovation could be used to make new types of touch-sensitive surfaces, such as customized paint brushes and mechanical adhesives that work like Velcro.
In one application, the scientists printed a model of a windmill that spins when it detects a vibration. In another, they printed a mat of artificial hair that was able to respond differently to various swiping motions.
At the International Aerospace Exhibition and Air Show in Berlin last week, Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer, unveiled a 13-foot-long drone with 50 of its parts made on a computer. Only its two electric motors and controls weren't the result of 3D printing. The unmanned aircraft, named Thor, cost less than $23,000 to build and is seen as another big step toward the day when Airbus will print the parts for a full airliner.
Taking it to the streets
In case there was any doubt about Airbus’ commitment to 3D printing, one of its subsidiaries, APWorks, has just created the first electric motorbike made from printed parts.
It may be the world’s lightest motorbike, weighing just 77 pounds, with its web-like chassis made of a custom aluminum alloy. For now, the company is building just 50 copies of the electric model, called Light Rider. Each one, with a top speed of 50 miles per hour, costs more than $55,000.
Very personal pancakes
And now you can even print pancakes that look like Darth Vader. With the help of a device called PancakeBot, you cna make one memorable breakfast.
PancakeBot works by dispensing batter onto a griddle in the shape of a chosen design, based on what you load into the machine's card. But the chance to create pancakes you may be reluctant to eat doesn't come cheap. It sells on Amazon for about $300.
Printing stem cells
Two Israeli companies have collaborated on a successful trial using a 3D bioprinter to produce a large volume of stem cells. The test by the Tel Aviv-based Nano Dimension and a biotech firm named Accellta could pave the way for printing large tissues and organs.
One of the technology’s most valuable applications could be for the production of “organs on chips,” which can be used to test new drugs and reduce the need for long clinical trials.
Making a tortoise whole
A tortoise whose shell was badly burned in a forest fire in Brazil has been fitted with the first prosthetic shell. After she was found with 85 percent of her shell damaged, an animal rescue group known as Animal Avengers decided to see if they could print her a new one.
Using 40 photos of healthy tortoises as a guide, they created a 3D model and entered the specs into a computer. That allowed them to print four separate pieces that fit around the injured animal. A Brazilian artist provided the final touch—a realistic-looking paint job.