3D printing, a technology still in search of a market, may have just found a home in the world of medicine. The US Food and Drug Administration approved an epilepsy medicine called Spritam that is made by 3D printers, making it the first 3D-printed product that the FDA has approved for use inside the human body.
Aprecia, the pharmaceutical company behind Spritam, says that its new type of tablet is made by 3D-printing layers of the powdered drug, binding the layers of powder together, and then blowing away the excess powder. The drug’s unique structure allows it to dissolve considerably faster than the average pill, which as the news site 3DPrint points out is a boon to seizure sufferers who often are prescribed large, hard-to-swallow pills. Aprecia also says 3D printing will allow doctors to know that the medicine they’re prescribing delivers the exact dose intended, as each pill will be completely uniform.
This could prove to be an important step for integrating 3D printing more deeply into the US health system. Doctors in the US already use a government-sponsored 3D-printing repository to share tool designs to aid in surgeries and treatments; now scientists are working on 3D-printed tracheas and bones, as well as ears, kidneys and skin—which could one day help cover the massive shortage in donor organs.
While the quick-dissolving Spritam tablet is a world away from 3D-printed organs and body parts, its approval shows that the FDA thinks certain 3D-printed materials are safe for human consumption.
Rather like 3D printing itself, this drug could be the base layer the technology slowly builds upon, perhaps generating future medical innovations.