These Personalized, 3D-Printed Pills Are Designed to Time-Release Supplements

File this under our ever-growing obsession with using tech to hack our bodies.

Multivitamins have a problem: Science has shown them to be, at best, useless and, at worst, harmful to your health. But this is largely because multivitamins are generic, designed for the average person, and this imprecision makes them not very effective for most people.

But a new startup is hoping to change that, by 3D printing personalized pills that meet your individual needs, and even meet your individual schedule. Multiply Labs has also created a time-delay function by printing capsules with different chambers that hold different supplements. Each chamber can have varying thickness, which determines how slow or fast the capsule wall is dissolved and the supplement released.

Co-founder Fred Parietti told me there's a number of reasons why you might want to delay when your supplements get released, rather than just taking them all at once. Vitamin B12, for example, is absorbed in the small intestine, but if it's released as soon as you pop a pill, only about 56 percent is absorbed. If you could delay the supplement from being released until the capsule was inside your small intestine, it could help you absorb more.

"Or, for example, I feel very tired around noon," Parietti told me. "So for me it's very important that the capsule release caffeine at that time. With a regular caffeine pill, I can't guarantee it's going to give me the boost when I need it, because it's mass produced. But we can customize it."

A box of Multiply Labs supplements. Image: Multiply Labs

The amount the team can delay a supplement is limited right now to the digestive system, which takes five to six hours to break down a capsule. But Parietti told me in the future, they have plans to design a capsule that would float in the human stomach, allowing for supplements, or even medication, to be delivered slowly over a span of days. It's also limited to nine natural supplements—no drugs—but the team can see their technology being useful for individuals who have to take multiple medications throughout the course of the day. This could enable them to just pop one multi-chamber pill in the morning and be done.

Multiply Labs is taking preorders for their first pills to be released early next year, and the team told me they've raised enough funding to get set up and start production. Its online tool to "build your pill" is pretty bare bones right now. I was disappointed to see it didn't even ask about diet—vegans, for example, sometimes take supplements for certain nutrients that are only found in animal products, like the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. But for the nutritionally-savvy, there is an option to completely customize your pill from scratch, down to the milligram.

That feature might make the product especially appealing to the nootropics crowd—people who take cocktails, called "stacks," of vitamins, nutrients, and drugs to improve their cognitive function and daily well-being. Rather than combining many different pills to build a stack, this technology could provide the opportunity to build a stack into a single pill. It's something Multiply Labs has thought about, which is partly why they included straight caffeine (often considered a beginner nootropic) in its first nine available supplements.

It's another example of how startups are hoping to cash in on our ever-growing obsession with using tech to hack our bodies.