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)
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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:

So long to plaster casts?

(Image courtesy of Investigación y Desarrollo)

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.  

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