Vapour jet printing personalised medicines

Article by Helen Tunnicliffe

Crystals of ibuprofen, printed onto a silicon film using organic vapour jet printing (Max Shtein)

RESEARCHERS at the University of Michigan have developed vapour jet printing technology, usually used in electronics manufacturing, to print pure, ultra-precise, custom doses of drugs for patients.

The drugs can be printed, for example, on dissolvable strips or microneedle patches, and the technology could one day be rolled out at pharmacies and hospitals to provide tailored, personalised medicines, particularly for patients requiring multiple medications. The organic vapour jet printing technology has been developed by materials science and engineering professor Max Schtein, and doctoral student Olga Shalev, with collaborators from the chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, pharmacy and physics departments. They have so far tested the method on drugs including caffeine, paracetamol, ibuprofen and tamoxifen.

Organic vapour jet printing can print a fine crystalline structure over a wide area. The researchers first heat the powdered active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) to evaporate it and combine it with a stream of heated, inert gas such as nitrogen. The mixture is forced through printer nozzles onto a cooled surface, where it forms a thin, crystalline film. The process does not need solvents or additives and the printed medicines do not require any further processing.

The printed medicines dissolve more quickly, which could allow drugs that do not dissolve well in conventional formats to be used more widely. The rapid solubility could also be used for the drug testing process. Compounds being tested are generally dissolved in a chemical solvent before being applied to cells, but the printed compounds could simply be dissolved in the culture medium.

While commercialisation may be some years away, the technology could find uses in the short term, for example in the clinical testing of new drugs.

“One of the major challenges facing pharmaceutical companies is speed to clinical testing in humans,” said Gregory Amidon, a pharmacy research professor and author on the paper. “This technology offers up a new approach to accelerate the evaluation of new medicines.”

The researchers will now look at other applications for organic vapour jet printing and will work with experts in pharmaceutical compound design and manufacturing as they seek to scale up the process.

Nature Communications

Article by Helen Tunnicliffe

Senior reporter, The Chemical Engineer

Recent Editions

Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.