A new method of 3D printing custom medication has been developed at the University of Michigan. The method uses an electronics manufacturing technique called Organic Vapor Jet Printing (OVJP), the technique is capable of layering multiple drugs on a single surface by spraying them as a fine gas.

In an  OVJP is described as follows,

“UNLIKE INKJET PRINTING OF POLYMER ORGANIC ELECTRONIC DEVICES, OVJP AVOIDS THE USE OF LIQUID SOLVENTS AND ELIMINATES THE NEED FOR PRE- OR POST-DEPOSITION PATTERNING OF THE ACTIVE ORGANIC LAYER AND SUBSTRATE. BECAUSE NO LIQUID SOLVENT IS USED, NO TIME IS SPENT ON DRYING THE DEPOSITED LAYERS.”

The method means that medicines can take on new flexible forms which could lead to a new generation of therapeutic treatments. So far, tests have proven to be as effective at treating cancer as conventionally manufactured drugs.

No additives, solvents or post-processing

The project, , is led by Professor Max Shtein and Olga Shalev, from Michigan’s department of materials science and engineering. The rest of the 14 strong team is formed of multidisciplinary researchers from the departments of chemical and biomedical engineering, physics, the College of Pharmacy, and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

The process works by evaporating a medicinal powder so that it can be combined with an inert gas. The gas is then sprayed through a nozzle onto a cooled surface, where the evaporated drug component crystallizes to form a film.

The inert gas, typically nitrogen, simply disperses into the air, leaving a pure concentration of the drug without any solvent content or other additives.

New medicines

So far experiments have shown that pharmaceutical ingredients, like caffeine,
paracetamol and ibuprofen, and cancer-treating tamoxifen and BAY 11-7082, can be layered onto a range of different substrates including glass, soluble Listerine tabs, and stainless steel microneedles.

Paracetamol and other drugs layered on to different substrates. Top row from left to right: on Tegaderm, a Listerine tab, steel microneedles and glass slides. Bottom row from left to right: microscopic detail of drugs on respective substrates above. Image via Nature Communications

This versatility is extremely useful when it comes to the testing of new drugs in lab.  , “One of the major challenges facing pharmaceutical companies is speed to clinical testing in humans, this technology offers up a new approach to accelerate the evaluation of new medicines.”

Teaching old drugs new tricks

The addition to soluble tabs in particular is pertinent, as this means that drugs previously rejected due to poor dissolution can be reassessed for classification.

Shtein explains, “Pharma companies have libraries of millions of compounds to evaluate, and one of the first tests is solubility,” Shtein said. “About half of new compounds fail this test and are ruled out. Organic vapor jet printing could make some of them more soluble, putting them back into the pipeline.”

From Michigan News: “Graduate student research assistant Siddharth Suresh Borsadia prints fluorescein crystals onto a cooled glass plate using organic vapor jet printing.” Photo by Levi Hutmacher/Michigan Engineering

3D printers in clinics

The vision of this technology, as with other personalized medication  or , is that 3D printers could one day become an integrated part of a doctor’s surgery or a hospital. As Michigan researcher Shtein adds, “A doctor or pharmacist can choose any number of medications, which the machine would combine into a single dose.”

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Featured image shows Vapor jet layered drugs on a substrate. Image via Michigan Engineering on YouTube