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£6M UK Grant Boosts 3D Printed Medicine and More

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Researchers at the University of Nottingham‘s Centre for Additive Manufacturing (CfAM) in the UK received a £6 million ($7.4 million) grant from the British government to develop a toolkit that will allow 3D printed medicines to be manufactured more effectively. The project aims to create “smart products” on demand that are personalized and bespoke, driving innovations closer to commercial production. Examples include prosthetic limbs, bio drugs containing active ingredients like biological molecules, and living plasters or wound patches that can rebuild tissues damaged from chronic disease.

Led by CfAM professor and additive manufacturing expert Ricky Wildman, the project will see participation from fellow researchers from the University of Nottingham’s Faculty of Engineering and School of Pharmacy, as well as the Universities of Cambridge, Reading, and Strathclyde, and project partners like Boston Micro Fabrication, AstraZeneca, Formlabs, Pfizer and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Together, the teams will work to develop a toolkit platform that acts as an instruction manual allowing the industry to identify, select and process the correct materials to 3D print into new regenerative medicines and pharmaceuticals.

Formulating 3D printable materials ready for advanced function. Image courtesy of CfAM/University of Nottingham.

3D printing for healthcare

Hoping to give healthcare professionals access to the latest cutting-edge science faster, the researchers aim to improve the pathway from research to development and clinical adoption, which faces major obstacles. Towards this end, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which offers federal grants to UK universities, decided to fund Wildman’s five-year project.

Commenting on the proposal, Wildman said the proposal aims to improve the adoption of 3D printing, particularly in healthcare technologies. He further explains: “There is currently a lack of agility in UK manufacturing preventing 3D printing being developed in certain areas of industry. Manufacturing needs the capability to quickly, predictably, and reliably ‘dial up’ performance to produce products embedded with advanced functionality. Many pharmaceutical firms don’t know how to go from concept to reality with 3D printing. They aren’t sure what materials are 3D-printable, which order to combine the materials, or what function different geometric profiles have. This new project aims to provide all this information to enable commercial applications.”

Using computational modeling and machine learning, the team will develop instructions for use by the industry to accelerate the development cycle of new drugs, which could reduce timescales from two years to six months. Moreover, as part of the project, three test pharmaceutical products will be developed and tested, all of which rely on incorporating proteins or enzymes to promote cell growth and have customizable, complex, and multi-material requirements.

Solid dosage tablets for oral delivery of biotherapeutics. Image courtesy of CfAM/University of Nottingham.

Accelerating the health revolution

As CfAM explains, this initiative aims to deliver the tools that will shorten the development time and production of functional 3D printed products, thereby enabling widespread uptake and competitive advantage within sectors key to the UK. To deliver this, the team will first demonstrate 3D printing capability to deliver advanced functional products to key, high-value sectors of the UK, particularly the pharma and biotechnology sectors, develop libraries of materials that extend the current functional capability of 3D printing bioinks, and develop a toolkit of connected synthesis, formulation, screening and deposition systems that allow for the rapid assessment and deployment of 3D printable functional materials.

According to the University of Nottingham, the project targets widespread uptake across hospitals, pharmacies, and the wider UK National Health Service (NHS). The collaborators are already working hard, testing a biological pill that could replace injected vaccines. If successful, the 3D-printed personalized pill could be easily taken by the patient, cutting out issues with logistics, delivery, and administering of the drug.

In addition, the group is developing an intestinal patch that could calm inflammation, potentially helping patients with Crohn’s, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes swelling of the tissues in the digestive tract. The patch would be laid over the internal area and release active ingredients to help heal and support cell renewal.

NHS Consultant and University of Nottingham School of Medicine Professor Mohammad Ilyas said this is inspiring work that, through building cellular models, will “improve our understanding of how the gut functions.” If successful, it will lead to a paradigm shift in clinical management and launch the use of autologous tissue-engineered therapeutics for bowel disease treatment, added the expert.

Similarly, Clive Roberts, the Head of the School of Life Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham, indicated that “While these products are in their infancy, we are hoping to be able to develop these innovations to demonstrate the capabilities of the 3D printing tool kit and be able to show how we can combine materials to provide personalized medicines that are safe, effective and low cost.”

Using computational and algorithmic approaches to support materials identification and product design. Image courtesy of CfAM/CfAM

This is not the first time we heard from Professor Wildman and his 3D printing innovations. In 2021, the expert found a new way to design and manufacture custom medical devices to boost performance and bacterial resistance through a combination of multi-material inkjet 3D printing and genetic algorithms. Before that, he participated in a project to 3D print medicines with personalized doses. With Wildman at the helm of CfAM, 3D printing research could help advance next-generation on-demand healthcare devices that will improve patient care in the UK. This program, in particular, has the ambitious goal of realizing highly functional, smart products with the potential to transform key UK industries like biopharma, cell therapy, regenerative medicine, biocatalysis, and more.

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