According to a recent survey by Consumer Reports, more than half of people in the U.S. take at least one prescription drug on a regular basis. On average, they take four different medicines. This poses many challenges, ranging from keeping prescriptions filled to adhering to the dosage instructions. Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a system that could revolutionize prescription drug use.
The basic idea is that they can print prescription drugs on demand. The process uses technology that is widely used in many industries: vapor deposition. They heat the material and then use a vapor-jet (similar in concept to an inkjet) to deposit the material on a cooled surface. They use a substrate of dissolvable strip of paper, and the drug material is spread across its surface. The micro-crystaline structure of the material makes it dissolve much faster and more completely than traditional pill and capsule forms. Multiple drugs could be “printed” onto the same strip, so that a patient would only have to take a single strip instead of a handful of tablets and capsules.
The improved solubility of the drugs could also make more medications available. Many drug companies have abandoned certain formulations because they don’t dissolve adequately in the body. As a result, many promising alternatives never even reach the testing stage. The new process could also make it easier to test new drugs on cell cultures in the lab, because they would not require special solvents before being applied to the cells.
In the future, your doctor or pharmacist may be able to print out custom medications for you that combine all your prescriptions into a single strip. Combined with roll-to-roll printing equipment, it could result in lower costs for medicines, and mass production of individualized medicines.