Imagine a future where 3-D printers shorten supply chains (you make products in your living room instead of China) and make everything more customizable. Interest in the once exorbitantly expensive technology is finally coming down to Earth, as evidenced by projects like the Urbee 3-D car, the 3-D bone printing machine, and 3-D-printed blood vessels. Next up: 3-D-printed medications.
Researchers at Glasgow University recently reported that they have figured out how to 3-D print “reactionware” (polymer gel vessels housing chemical reactions) using design software and a $2,000 3-D printer that is already on the market. The components for chemical reactions are built right into the reactionware.
This is not a new concept; the technique is used often in large-scale chemical engineering projects. But this is the first time it has been done on a laboratory scale, and with 3-D printers that can spit out finished vessels in just a few hours. The researchers explain in their abstract: “This approach constitutes a relatively cheap, automated and reconfigurable chemical discovery platform that makes techniques from chemical engineering accessible to typical synthetic laboratories.”
The research is still in early stages, but Glasgow scientists have already managed to print out anti-cancer drugs. They speculate that eventually, “We could even see 3-D printers reach into homes and become fabricators of domestic items, including medications. Perhaps with the introduction of carefully controlled software ‘apps,’ similar to the ones available from Apple, we could see consumers have access to a personal drug designer they could use at home to create the medication they need.”
In the meantime, you can still make your own pharmaceutical drugs in your local community biolab.