New Method Could Print Out Prescription Pills to Order

System liquefies medicine and makes it into printable ink

Printing Pills

A new method that prints liquefied medicine onto pills could make them easier to swallow.via Flickr/ Erix!

A new printing method could deposit medicines onto the surface of pills, making large, chalky-tasting tablets -- and your grandma's weekly-labeled pill box -- a thing of the past. Researchers in England have devised a way to dissolve active ingredients into a liquid and turn it into an ink that can be printed onto tablets, the way ink is printed onto paper.

Most tablet pills are made of about 99.5 percent preservatives and inactive solids, mainly so they can be easily picked up and swallowed. But the digestive system has to break them down before the medicine can enter the bloodstream and go to work.

The printing method would deposit the medicine on the surface of the pill instead. It could also allow for multiple medicines to be printed onto single pills, reducing the number of tablets patients must swallow and preventing tablets from being needlessly embiggened.

Pills with different dosages could be individually printed for each patient, depending on his or her needs.

Printing active ingredients onto pre-made tablets would be faster and easier than making a tablet from scratch for each medicine, according to the researchers, from the University of Leeds, Durham University and GlaxoSmithKline.

Each pill would get the exact right dose, which is more accurate than the current system  -- now, each batch of pills is checked at the factory to make sure dosages are right. The researchers say that with those arduous quality-control procedures removed, new pills could get to market much faster.

Much more work still needs to be done, however. As of now, the method would only work for about 0.5 percent of all medicines used in tablet form. But the team hopes the number could reach 40 percent.

A medicine droplet is about 20 times larger than a traditional ink droplet, so the researchers have to figure out how many drops each tablet can hold and how to increase the level of active ingredients in each drop.

Till now, the process for making pills hasn't changed much since the first patent for tablets in 1843.