Singapore team develops technology to 'print' customised tablets

The drug tablet has three components, including a polymer containing the drug in a specifically designed shape that will determine the rate of release

A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has found a way to make personalised medicine more cheaply and easily.

Assistant Professor Soh Siowling and PhD student Sun Yajuan from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the NUS Faculty of Engineering have developed a new method of tablet fabrication which can make customisable pills that release drugs with any desired release profiles.

To achieve an optimal therapeutic effect it is important to release drugs in a timely manner. Different types of clinical circumstances may call for different types of timed release of drugs.

While some existing tablet-production methods, including 3D printing, allow certain flexibility, they have their limitations, such as low dosage, release profiles that are non-continuous, or the drugs are released in a large burst in the initial stage, and poor durability of the tablet given its quick breakdown. These methods are also only able to produce tablets that release drugs with a limited type of profiles.

'For a long time, the personalised tablet has been a mere concept as it was far too complex or expensive to be realised. This new tablet fabrication method is a game changer – it is technically simple, relatively inexpensive and versatile. It can be applied at individualised settings where physicians could produce customised pills on the spot for patients, or in mass production settings by pharmaceutical companies,' said Asst Prof Soh.

This new tablet fabrication method is a game changer – it is technically simple, relatively inexpensive and versatile

Instead of manufacturing the drug tablet by printing layer by layer, the drug tablet designed by the NUS team consists of three components, including a polymer containing the drug in a specifically designed shape that will determine the rate of release of the drug. By adjusting the shape of the drug-containing polymer, it is thus possible to release drugs at any desired rate.

Using the NUS system, a doctor only needs to draw the desired release profile in computer software to generate a template for making tablets specific to a patient's treatment, which can then be used to produce the desired pills using a 3D printer. The system is easy to use and does not involve any complex mathematical computation whenever a new release profile is needed. The fully customisable system is able to create a template to print tablets for any release profile.

This fabrication method can also be modified to include multiple types of drugs loaded within the same tablet – and each drug can be customised to release at different rates even within the same tablet.

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