SPHRINT – Printing Drug Delivery Microspheres from Polymeric Melts

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Graphical abstract

Sphrint is a straightforward, solvent-free, and advantageous method for generating microspheres. Its principle is based on using an inkjet-like print-head to eject a portion of a molten polymer-API blend onto a non-wetting surface.

This paper describes a simple, straightforward, and rapid method for producing microspheres from molten polymers by merely printing them in an inkjet-like manner onto a superoleophobic surface (microsphere printing, hence SPHRINT). Similar to 3D printing, a polymer melt is deposited onto a surface; however, in contrast to 2D or 3D printing, the surface is not wetted (i.e. exhibiting high contact angles with liquids, above 150°, due to its low surface energy), resulting in the formation of discrete spherical microspheres. In this study, microspheres were printed using polycaprolactone and poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) loaded with a model active pharmaceutical ingredient—ibuprofen (IBU). The formation of microspheres was captured by high-speed imaging and was found to involve several physical phenomena characterized by non-dimensional numbers, including the thinning and breakup of highly viscous, weakly elastic filaments, which are first to be described in pure polymer melts. The resulting IBU-loaded microspheres had higher sphericity, reproducible sizes and shapes, and superior drug encapsulation efficiencies with a distinctly high process yield (>95%) as compared to the conservative solvent-based methods used presently. Furthermore, the microspheres showed sustained release profiles.

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