3D printed pills could enable doctors to tailor medication for children

30 July 2018

UCLan pharmaceutics lecturer is working with Alder Hey on a research trial

3D-printed tablets for consumption by children may have the potential to enable healthcare professionals to specifically tailor medication for young people, improving patient outcomes and reducing wastage.

A new joint research trial by Alder Hey and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is using 3D printed placebo tablets to test ‘swallowability’ and acceptance in children between four and twelve years of age.

The current system of administering medicines to children and young people poses a challenge. To obtain the required dose, healthcare professionals and parents often have to choose between splitting tablets designed mainly for adults or using liquids, which may be ‘bulked up’ with additional agents, can have an unpleasant taste and be difficult to transport and store.

Splitting age inappropriate tablets for use in children can result in inconsistent dosing, which sometimes leads to other problems; such as side effects, inadequate dosing and potential treatment failure.

Dr Mohamed Albed Alhnan, Senior Lecturer in Pharmaceutics at UCLan, said: “We were looking for a low cost and effective method to digitize one of the most commonly used dosage forms – tablets.

“We have spent thousands of hours in the laboratories to adapt pharmaceutical grade materials to work on a benchtop 3D printer, so we can produce a personalised dose at a fraction of the size and the cost of regular tablet manufacturing facilities.

"Our research into 3D printing of tablets shows that we can develop medicines which are age appropriate and with excellent dose precision for use in children."

“This can transform the way tablets are made and tailored to suit an individual patient.”

3D printed tablets could be a suitable alternative for children to take when required and the second part of the research aims to test the placebos for acceptability to children.

Researchers have printed three different size tablets 6mm, 8mm and 10mm, which they aim to administer to children, including both healthy children and NHS patients. They will undertake detailed observations of children as they swallow the placebo tablets in a specialist clinical research facility at Alder Hey and use validated methods to assess acceptability.

Co-Director at NIHR Alder Hey Clinical Research Facility for Experimental Medicine Professor Matthew Peak said: “Children and young people have increasingly expressed their preference for tablets as the best formulation for them to take medicines.

“Despite this expressed need, the pharmaceutical industry knows little about which size and shape of tablets are most acceptable to children and young people of different ages.

“The majority of medicines available to children have not been designed with children in mind or indeed tested in clinical trials involving children.”

He added: “Our research into 3D printing of tablets shows that we can develop medicines which are age appropriate and with excellent dose precision for use in children.

“Our current studies are establishing the optimal size of tablets for children, ensuring that pharmaceutical partners can formulate medicines in the most appropriate and acceptable form for children; and in future use 3D printing technology to have on-demand, customised doses of tablets.”