3D printing and drug development

The creation of drugs with complex release profiles, targeted drug delivery devices, and make-to-order prescriptions are possible with 3D inkjet and powder printing technology


One of the most interesting applications for 3D printing in healthcare is in the drug sector. 3D inkjet and powder printing are commonly used for drug fabrication. The 3D inkjet printer sprays active and inactive medicinal ingredient-containing ‘ink’ as small droplets over a substrate composed of cellulose, paper, or potato starch to form a particle. Powder printing is similar, but the ‘ink’ is sprayed onto a powder foundation and hardens on contact, producing layers of a solid dosage form.

As you can imagine, this technology has the capability of producing limitless kinds of drug dosage units. Medical active ingredients such as acetaminophen, caffeine, and folic acid have already been incorporated into ink formulations and 3D-printed as microcapsules, antibiotic printed micropatterns and synthetic extracellular matrices. 3D powder printing facilitates the creation of multi-layered drugs with complex release profiles, where layers can contain active ingredients or barriers that modulate release in comparison to traditional dosage forms that are homogenous.

3D printing technology has also had an impact on drug delivery. Novel 3D printed drug delivery devices can be used for targeted delivery of drugs to affected areas in the body that minimize widespread effects and new drugs can be screened on 3D-printed patient tissue to determine which drugs could be the most efficacious for treatment.

Lastly, one can also envision that 3D printing in the drug sector has the potential to replace pharmaceutical companies. Large manufacturing plants could be replaced by databases of drug compounds that are printed on-site by the pharmacy or sites of care when required, which will eliminate delivery methods and reduce costs of drugs drastically.


Ventola, CL. Medical Applications for 3D printing: Current and Projected Uses. Pharmacy and Therapeutics, Volume 39, Issue 10, Pages 704-711, 2014.

Schubert C, van Langeveld MC, Donoso LA. Innovations in 3D printing: a 3D overview from optics to organs. The British Journal of Opthamology, Volume 98, Issue 2, Pages 159-161, 2013

Gross BC, Erkal JL, Lockwood SY, Chen C, Spence DM. Evaluation of 3D printing and its potential impact on biotechnology and the chemical sciences. Analytical Chemistry, Volume 86, Issue 7, Pages 3240-3253, 2014.






Written by Fiona Wong, PhD


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