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Printing Your Prescription: How 3-D Printing Technology is Affecting the Pharmaceutical Industry

Printing Your Prescription: How 3-D Printing Technology is Affecting the Pharmaceutical Industry

By: Sarah Massey, M.Sc.

Posted on: in Blogs | Life Science Blogs

3-D printing is an exciting new technology that promises to revolutionize the medical device industry. To date, a wide variety of products, including polymer organ models, custom-fit prosthetics and synthetic tissue scaffolds have been designed, developed and manufactured using three-dimensional printing technology.

Experts believe the next big industry to be revolutionized by the 3-D printer is the pharmaceutical industry. In the wake of the FDA’s first approved 3-D printed drug – which happened earlier this year – and the promise of three others in the works, experts are predicting that the future of the pharmaceutical industry lies in the development of printable drug products.

History of 3-D Printing and How 3-D Printers Work

Charles W. Hull is a name you might not be familiar with, but he is the man behind the world’s first patented 3-D printer. Invented in 1984, Hull’s printer used a technique called stereolithography, which employs a UV laser that solidifies a photopolymer into a 3-dimentional shape outlined in a computer-aided-design (CAD) file. This invention closely followed the work of Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute, who in 1981 was the first person to use a light-sensitive resin to build a miniature three-dimensional model of a house. Hull went on to found 3-D Systems, which remains the world’s second-largest manufacturer of 3-D printers, next to Stratasys.

3-D printers boast rapid prototyping technology, which means concepts are able to be quickly and efficiently turned into three-dimensional models, allowing for optimization of computer-generated designs. This technology also benefits manufacturers, who have the option to build their products on an order-by-order basis, with less materials waste compared to traditional molding and trimming techniques.

Today’s 3-D printers developed for drug manufacture use a powder- or liquid-based substrate which solidifies when hit by a computerized laser designed to form a certain shape, creating a single layer of the pill. The printer repeats this process of laying down layers until the final product is complete.

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