Graduate student Siddharth Suresh Borsadia prints medicine onto a cooled glass plate using organic vapor jet printing. Graduate student Siddharth Suresh Borsadia prints medicine onto a cooled glass plate using organic vapor jet printing. Graduate student Siddharth Suresh Borsadia prints medicine onto a cooled glass plate using organic vapor jet printing. (Photo: Levi Hutmacher / Univ. of Michigan)

What if you could print medicine at home?

Scientists discover way to print multiple drugs onto a piece of paper that you can swallow.

If it's time to get your prescription filled, that means it's time to head over to your local CVS or Walgreens. Pharmacies have moved into your grocery store and have also added drive-thru windows, both of which make the trip easier. But what if you could actually print the medicine at home with the simple push of a button?

It's sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but researchers at the University of Michigan have just proven the concept in a newly released study. What's more, they've taken the idea one step further: they were also able to print multiple medicines at the same time, meaning life would become easier for patients who must now take several medications every day. A single dissolvable strip of paper could carry all the medicines a person needs for the day, and without worry about correct dosing.

The technology would also come in handy in disaster areas where much-needed medicine is often scarce. Imagine if in places like hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, empty pharmacies could simply print more medicine.

So how did the scientists do it? They modified a technology from electronics manufacturing called organic vapor-jet printing which has, up until now, mostly been used to make really high-end TVs. One key advantage of the technique is that it can print a very fine crystalline structure over a large surface area. This helps printed medications dissolve more easily, opening the door to a variety of potential new drugs that today are shelved because they don't dissolve well when administered with conventional approaches, including pills and capsules.

The study was led by Max Shtein, a professor of materials science and engineering, and Olga Shalev, a recent graduate who worked on the project while a doctoral student in the same department. Shalev, who grew up in Israel, holds multiple degrees from the Technion Institute in Israel. She explained the complex printing process in the video below:

Using a 3D printer, the researchers were able to print drug doses onto a variety of surfaces, including dissolvable Listerine tabs, glass, and stainless steel micro-needles. Their study, published in the journal Nature Communications, specifically showed that printed medication can destroy cultured cancer cells in the lab as effectively as medication delivered by traditional means.

3D printers are becoming increasingly helpful in the medical field. One story that has caught the public's attention is that of Mia Gonzalez. The 5-year-old from Miami was born with a rare heart malformation called double aortic arch. Surgeons at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Florida were able to print an exact replica of her heart down to the smallest detail. They used technology from Stratasys, a firm that produces cutting-edge 3D printers from its manufacturing headquarters in Israel.

Having one of these medicine machines in your home is likely many years way. Not to mention, regulators will need to ensure that people are not misusing the device. For now, the scientists are hoping to be able to get the printers into pharmacies to help deliver drugs in a more efficient manner. So, for now, next time you run out of cholesterol medicine, it's back to the car and off to the pharmacy. Hey, at least you can use the drive-thru.


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