Magazine article Science News

Ink Jets Not Just for the Printed Page

Magazine article Science News

Ink Jets Not Just for the Printed Page

Article excerpt

Desktop publishing is graduating quickly to the next level-desktop manufacturing. Using the technology of ink jet printers, researchers have devised a way to make pills by printing them in three dimensions. In this way, scientists can design and manufacture pills much as engineers create machine parts.

Instead of placing drops of ink on a piece of paper, the 3-D printer builds up a pill by repeatedly layering small amounts of powder and liquid binder on top of each other. "We use the same materials they use in normal drug manufacturing, except we put them together in a different way," says Michael J. Cima of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Cima described the 3-D technique this week at a meeting of the Materials Research Society in San Francisco.

In a desktop printer, droplets of ink emerge from a tiny nozzle and are given an electric charge. Electrodes steer the ink drops to precisely controlled locations, forming letters at high resolution. Similarly, the 3-D printer lays down the pill's ingredients to create a microstructure inside the finished tablet. For example, tiny chambers inside the pill can be filled with one or more drugs in different concentrations.

Pills made in this way can carry very small doses of exceptionally potent drugs. "With this kind of technology, we can accurately deposit one 60 [micrometer-size] droplet in each pill, so the dosage control is much better than what you can get with conventional processing," Cima says. …

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