Multiple medications with different release times—all in one pill.
Last year, the FDA approved a 3D-printed pill for the first time. And now, researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a method to make 3D printing medicine even better. NUS Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Assistant Professor Soh Siow Ling, with the help of PhD student Sun Yajuan, created a cheap, simple way to prompt a 3D printer to create multiple medications with different release formulas—all in one pill.
Everyone is on drugs. I don’t mean the old-fashioned, illegal kind, but the kind made by pharmaceutical companies that come in the form of pills. As a psychoanalyst, I’ve listened to people through the screen of their daily doses; and I’ve listened to them without it. Their natural rhythms certainly change, sometimes very dramatically—I guess that’s the point, isn’t it? I have a great many questions about what happens when a mind—a mind that uniquely structures emotion, interest, excitement, defense, association, memory, and rest—is undercut by medication. In this Faustian bargain, what are we gaining? And what are we sacrificing?
There is new resistance to the easy solution of medicating away psychological problems, because of revelations about addiction and abuse, a better understanding of placebo effects, or, for example, the startling realization that antidepressants, far from saving some teenagers from committing suicide, can sometimes push them to do it, which means that these pills should not be a first line of defense. Perhaps the time is right to return to the conundrum of mind and medicine.
The story of psychopharmacology stretches from the advent of barbiturates at the turn of the century to the discovery in the early 1950s of the first antipsychotic, based on a powerful sedative used for surgical purposes that was described as a “non-permanent pharmacological lobotomy.” This drug, Chlorpromazine, led to the development of most of the drugs used today for psychiatric management. The proliferation of psychiatric medications, ones with supposedly less overt dangers, began in the late 1980s—at the same time, a watershed lawsuit was filed in the UK against the makers of benzodiazepines, a class of drugs used for treating anxiety and other disorders, for knowingly downplaying knowledge of their potential for causing harm. Today, psychopharmacology is a multibillion-dollar industry and an estimated one in six adults in America is on some form of psychiatric medication (a statistic that doesn’t even include the use of sleeping pills, or pain pills, or the off-label use of other medications for psychological purposes).
We increasingly live in an age of personalized health care, where treatment can be tailored to suit individuals on a person-by-person basis. A new 3D printer aims to add another piece to this puzzle, by giving pharmacies the ability to quickly and easily produce custom doses of drugs for patients, based on their specific needs. That means that instead of patients on lots of medication having to remember to take three of one pill, two of another and so on, they could instead receive their required doses in vastly simplified form.
IBM’s Watson can beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy, tell you about your city, and dream up recipes for delectable delicacies. Watson is now doing something even more important than all previous capabilities combined — it’s finally getting closer to becoming your doctor.
3D-printed widgets and other medical novelties clearly illustrate the potential of 3D printing. They are set to radically change the biotech and pharmaceutical industry. With its extreme versatility and inherent ability to customize products, many experts believe that 3D printing will finally blow the field of affordable personalized medicine wide open. Yet so far it’s been mostly hope — and plenty of hype — with little sign that the radical technology might actually become a medical mainstay.