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Scientists develop 3D printed pills for controlled release within the body

The Computer Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Informatics and the University of California at Davis used high-level computational techniques

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In the imminent future, we can anticipate encountering 3D printed pharmaceutical pills of unconventional shapes. These peculiarly-shaped pills, far from a mere aesthetic innovation, are designed for controlled drug release within the body. This groundbreaking development is the result of combining high-level computational techniques with the rapidly advancing field of 3D printing to fabricate objects that dissolve in fluids at a prearranged pace.

A joint team of Computer Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken, Germany, and the University of California at Davis have pioneered this technique, predicated solely on the form of the object for timed release. This advancement has significant implications for the pharmaceutical industry, which is currently prioritizing research and development in the area of 3D printing.

Scientists from Max Planck Institute and the University of California at Davis have develop 3D printed pills for controlled release. Regulating the levels of pharmaceutical drugs within patients’ bodies is a critical aspect of medication administration. For intravenous infusion, the drug concentration in the bloodstream is calculated by the infusion rate times the drug proportion within the solution. A steady drug level is typically achieved by initially administering a large dose, followed by smaller maintenance doses. With oral administration, ensuring this regimen is considerably more challenging.

One possible solution is the use of intricate, multi-component structures with varied drug concentrations at different locations, although this presents manufacturing complexities. Alternatively, the progress in 3D printing technology and its unparalleled capacity to generate elaborate shapes provides an opportunity for free-form drugs with consistent biochemical distribution in the carrier material. In this case, drug release depends exclusively on the geometric shape, simplifying the assurance and control of drug delivery.

The project, spearheaded by Dr. Vahid Babaei (Max Planck Institute for Informatics) and Prof. Julian Panetta (University of California at Davis), culminates in the production of 3D printed pills programmed to dissolve over a set timeframe, thus allowing for controlled drug release. A strategic combination of mathematical modeling, experimental arrangement, and 3D printing enables the team to produce 3D forms that dispense timed drug quantities as they dissolve. This can be harnessed to establish predetermined drug concentrations through oral administration.

Given that no external manipulation is feasible post-ingestion in the digestive tract, the desired time-dependent drug release must be achieved by the shape (active surface that dissolves) of the specimen. With some computational input, a time-dependent dissolution can be predicted from a given geometric shape. For instance, in the case of a sphere, it corresponds directly to the diminishing spherical surface. The research team proposes a forward simulation, premised on the geometric intuition that objects dissolve layer by layer. However, the challenge lies in reverse engineering – defining a desired release pattern first and subsequently identifying a shape that dissolves to match that release profile.

Scientists from Max Planck Institute and the University of California at Davis have develop 3D printed pills for controlled release.

Topology optimization (TO) offers a solution by inverting forward simulations to identify a shape that manifests a certain property. Initially conceptualized for mechanical components, TO has broadened its applications significantly. The team is pioneering an inverse design strategy to derive shape from release behavior using topology optimization. The dissolution is substantiated through experiments, with the recorded release curves aligning closely with the projected values.

In the experimental arrangement, objects are printed using a filament-based 3D printer. The dissolution is evaluated by a camera system, providing actual measurements rather than theoretical computations from a mathematical model. This is achieved by optically recording the solvent’s optical transmittance. Compared to traditional measurement methods, which directly quantify the active ingredient concentration (e.g. by titration), this approach is faster and simpler to implement. The use of optical methods to measure active ingredient density has been established for some time, as in the case of determining grape juice sugar content (Öchsle) by refractometry during wine production.

The inverse design method can also accommodate different fabricability constraints inherent in various manufacturing systems. It can be adapted to generate extruded shapes, hence not hindering mass production capabilities. Beyond its application in pharmaceuticals, other potential areas include the production of catalytic bodies or even coarse granular fertilizers.

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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