3D printed ceramic

Wearable sensors are able to provide an increasingly detailed measure of what is going on in a patient’s body from minute to minute. In addition to vital signs, all sorts of biometric measures including chemical biomarkers can be sensed and recorded. This “quantified self” portrait could lead to new ways to customize treatment and make adjustments as the patient’s condition changes. What we need is a “drug factory” that produces and administers the precise medications in the quantities required.

This future became a lot closer recently when researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems (IKTS) developed a way to print ceramic material using 3D additive printing technology. By suspending components in a solution, they are able to create finely detailed devices made of ceramic, metal, or even glass. A special thermoplastic binds the powders so that they can be deposited drop by drop, then the finished object is heated under pressure, sintering the powders into a solid mass. As a result, it is possible to create devices with just hundreds of micrometers across, with structures that would be impossible to mill or mold under traditional fabrication processes.

This approach makes it possible to create tiny ceramic microreactors that can mix a variety of drugs such as painkillers, antibiotics, and blood thinners, tuning the mixture to the precise levels needed by the patient at that moment. This could result in more effective and more efficient delivery of medication, saving money and increasing positive outcomes.