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Pills in Space: 3D printing could make meds for Mars missions says NASA

By Gareth MacDonald+

27-Jun-2013
Last updated on 28-Jun-2013 at 09:28 GMT

3D printing could be used to make drugs tailored to individual astronauts' needs during space missions says NASA.

In 3D printing - also known as additive manufacturing - a digital model guides the successive deposition of material until a three dimensional object is formed. The technology is being assessed as a way of making a range of objects including drugs, as we learned earlier this week .

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) - which is already funding a study to see if 3D printing could be used to make a pizza in space - says the approach could also be used to produce pharmaceuticals en route to Mars.

Spokesman David Steitz told in-Pharmatechnologist.com that: "Additive manufacturing of pharmaceuticals in space should be possible, depending on the ingredients ability to be sprayed and layered through the printing process."

"In terms of the technology itself, it's conceivable that additive manufacturing equipment would be able to produce pharmaceuticals during long-duration space missions to Mars, or beyond."

Shelf life

But while NASA is open to the concept, the decision to start developing 3D printing for drug production in space would depend on the efficiencies gained by doing so as Steitz explained.

"There may be some efficiencies to be had in taking the basic ingredients of pharmaceuticals to orbit in quantity and then having a machine "print" customized pills, tailored to the individual needs of crew members.

"Or there may be efficiencies to be had in terms of weight, crew time, energy consumption and quality control to simply take most of your pill medications with you, depending on shelf life."

In 2011, a NASA study revealed that active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) degradation, discolouration and phase separation in solid dose drugs happens faster in space than it does on Earth suggesting that the ability to make pills in space may be useful.

"NASA recognizes that in-space and additive manufacturing offers the potential for game-changing weight savings and new mission opportunities, whether "printing" food, tools or entire spacecraft. Additive manufacturing offers opportunities to optimize the fit, form and delivery systems of materials for deep space travel."

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