The latest innovation in medical 3D printing is a 3D printer that could one day make customized medicines on demand, currently under development by the University of Central Lancashire in Preston in the UK.
The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) team says that the machine - which is awaiting a patent application - can "print" a tablet with a precise quantity of medicine that can be taken by a patient.
Although the printer can reproduce existing drugs, available in drugstores and hospitals, the UCLan team says that the main advantage of the printer is that it could potentially tailor-make drugs specific to a patient's needs.
"3D printing has been embraced by lots of different industries," says Dr. Mohamed Albed Alhnan from UCLan's School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, "but we have shown how this technology can be harnessed to improve medical care, providing low-cost, personally tailored medicines for patients."
The new technology was made possible by a drug-polymer filament system developed by Dr. Alhnan's team that can replace the original filaments in a 3D printer. This new system allowed the printer to replicate a complex tablet design, matching dose and weight with a high level of accuracy.
Dr. Alhnan says:
"Thanks to this technology, the invented system can provide medical institutions with a new option and maintain dosage form properties while accurately adjusting the dose with simple software order, something that was considered before to be costly and required experienced staff and dedicated facilities. Eventually, we hope to see that units can be kept at home for patients who continuously need to change their daily dose."
The UCLan team predict that their technique will have been taken up by hospitals and pharmaceutical firms within the next 5 years and by the public within 10 years.
You can view the 3D printer in use in the video below:
Facial prostheses and artificial ears
In other 3D printing news, researchers from the University of Miami, FL, have now developed a quick, affordable way to 3D print facial prostheses for patients who have hollow sockets from surgery to treat eye cancer or congenital deformities.
Currently, conventional facial prostheses cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to produce and are not usually covered by health insurance.
Dr. David Tse, professor of ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Florida, who initiated the study, says:
"Hopefully, using this quick and less expensive 3D printing process, we can make an affordable facial prosthesis [...] and help thousands of people who lack the resources to obtain one through an ocularist."
Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on the pioneering use of 3D printing by surgeons at a hospital in Cardiff in the UK, who were able to repair extensive facial injuries in a motorbike crash victim.
Using 3D scanned images of the man's face, the team were able to 3D print accurate models of his bone structure, which they used to plan the reconstruction. All of the guides and titanium implants used in the surgery were also produced using 3D printing.
Last year, research published in PLOS ONE also reported success in the use of 3D printing to create an artificial ear that looks and functions like a normal ear.
Co-lead author Dr. Jason Spector, director of the Laboratory for Bioregenerative Medicine and Surgery and associate professor of plastic surgery at Weill Cornell in New York, said that "a bioengineered ear replacement like this would also help individuals who have lost part or all of their external ear in an accident or from cancer."