There has been a lot of interest in 3D printing for applications like microneedles for vaccine delivery over the past year, notes Dimitrios Lamprou, PhD, a reader in pharmaceutical engineering at Queen’s University Belfast. He explains that U.S. and European regulators altered their 3D printing regulations last year as a response to the pandemic.

Microneedles can be 3D printed and used to deliver drugs into the body, using dissolved microneedles or hollow ones to deliver different medicines. According to Lamprou, this makes them ideal for the delivery of vaccines at an affordable cost.  “You don’t want the technology costing millions,” he says. “National governments can’t afford that.”

Lamprou will be giving a talk about emerging pharmaceutical technologies, such as microfluidics, at the Bioprocessing Summit Europe next March. He argues that microfluidics can be used to encapsulate peptides, siRNAs, and other small molecules, giving as an example the lipid nanoparticles used in the Pfizer-BioNTech miRNA vaccine.

“We’re doing this with microfluidics in order to manufacture these nanomedicines cheaper, faster and with more stability,” he says. “The problem with [miRNA] vaccines, and also a lot of biologics, is the stability.”

3D printing, meanwhile, has applications in cancer treatment, he explains. Microneedles, for example, can have their design changed quickly. If a patient has a melanoma, for example, they may require a longer needle to penetrate the thicker skin. Also, biodegradable implants can be manufactured with 3D printing for a variety of treatments including breast and prostate cancer.

Other applications of 3D printing technology, he says, include bespoke vagina mesh implants. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed their regulations on this recently, Lamprou explains, and it is easier with 3D printing to modify the implants for the area they will be applied.