DEC 06, 2015 07:30 AM PST

Precision Medicine via 3D Printed Drugs

In April of this year the FDA approved its first ever 3D printed pills. Progressing even farther, a team of researchers recently announced the development of a prototype computer algorithm that can print 3D drugs with personalized information. This means drugs can be printed based on a patient’s weight, race, gender, and other biological characteristics – a true form of “personalized medicine.”
Precision medicine by way 3D Printed drugs

The current genomic era has made it clear that the “one-size-fits-all-approach” is inadequate, as we all differ in genetic makeup, environmental exposures, and lifestyles. This means that the drugs we take should also factor in our medical and biological profile. But so far pre-formulated drugs are manufactured only for the “average patient” and do not take in to account biological differences like weight, race, or kidney, liver functions.
A 3D printer and a customizable dosing algorithm can push pharmaceuticals to the personalized medicine stage. The prototype was unveiled at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions by Dr. Min Pu, MD, a professor of internal medicine at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Taking input of individual patients’ characteristics, the software can calculate the appropriate dosing information that gets sent to the 3D printer, generating fully personalized pills.
3D Printer makes drugs of custom doses

“Our study uses the volume-concentration method to generate 3D-printed pills. What's different from current pharmaceutical industrials is that we use a computer algorithm to design and calculate dosages according to patients' biological and clinical parameters instead of using pre-determined dosages. Therefore, we can instantly create personalized pills. These personalized pills are then converted to 3D printable files and the pills can then be accurately printed using a 3D printer,” explained Dr Pu.
A total of 80 3D-printed pills were successfully generated with their algorithm. Doses ranged from 124 mg to 373 mg, with high reproducibility and low variability (standard deviation of 3 to 5 mg).

“Patients are not all the same. The way we react to a drug is dictated in part by our genetics as well as many other individual factors. Currently, pill dosages are dosed based on a ‘standard’ patient. That’s akin to a clothing store only selling suits of three different sizes and expecting a perfect fit in all customers.” Dr. Min Pu.
Medicine that adjusts for individual characteristics should theoretically result in increased efficacy and reduced side effects. At least that’s the hope. But personalized 3D printing of drugs is not going to replace traditional pre-formulated drugs any time soon – the customization technology is still in its infancy and the process of 3D printing drugs is not yet cost-effective.
Still, this is one of the earliest studies that marry 3D printing and pharmacogenetics. The resulting product can be truly called “personalized medicine.”  

Sources: FastCoexist, Endocrinology Advisor
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at
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