UK scientists from the University of Central Lancashire are patenting a new 3D printing system that could save the NHS millions of pounds on mass-produced medicines.

3D printing is growing in popularity among the healthcare community as a liable solution for reconstruction surgery – from jaw reconstruction, which was recently accomplished by South African doctors, to 3D printed vertebrae in China.

Now 3D printing could be used to revolutionise the field of prescription medicines by custom-making them for individual patients by delivering exactly the correct dose, to the nearest microgram.

The UK scientists have adapted the filaments of the 3D printer, which usually produce polymers, to produce pharmaceutical compounds.

Its inventors say that the technology will spell the end of the ‘one size fits all’ dose, which often leads to patients taking too much or too little of a prescribed drug. The pharmacist leading the team, Dr Mohamed Albed Alhnan, said: “As pharmacists we are aware of the problems that exist. At the moment we are making standard medicines, a one size fits all, but now the trend is to prescribe medicine specifically tailored for individual patients, which is where the new method comes in.”

He added that with some medication, such as that given to a liver patient, a fraction of a milligram of a drug makes a big difference and at the moment it is extremely expensive to tailor to these needs.

Dr Alhnan said his team worked on the project for more than a year and although they have already submitted patency papers there were still a lot of “hoops to jump through” before the method is in general use.

“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,” said Dr Alhnan.

It is predicted that the technique will be used by pharmaceutical firms and hospitals within five years and by the public within a decade.

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