While 3D printing is making strides on the personal and custom manufacturing front, there are more sci-fi advances going on that could have a much more dramatic effect on people's lives. In one example, scientists at the University of Glasgow have developed a chemical process that could eventually enable patients to print their own prescription medications.
Professor Lee Cronin, Gardiner Chair of Chemistry at the university, describes the project in a research paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry. The process leverages a commercially available 3D printer operated by open-source CAD software to build what the team calls "reactionware," or a home chemical fabricator, which consumers could use to design and create medications at home.
The technology is still in its infancy, but the Glasglow team sees big potential for 3D printing in medical applications. Cronin said in a press release describing the effort:
3D printers are becoming increasingly common and affordable. It's entirely possible that, in the future, we could see chemical engineering technology which is prohibitively expensive today filter down to laboratories and small commercial enterprises.
We could even see 3D printers reach into homes and become fabricators of domestic items, including medications.
And what about the possibility of people rampantly printing whatever drug they wanted without any kind of oversight by medical professionals? Cronin sees the answer in some sort of software-governed app store. "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."
I would't be too concerned at this point about the possibility of home drug synthesis. The current cool uses of 3D create new forms, but don't generate chemically different entities from the starting material. Even Dr. Cronin describes this concept as in the "science fiction stage." This is like worrying about what kind of seat belts to use in a faster-than-light spaceship! :)
@gsmith120: My sentiments exactly when it comes to the 3D printed perscriptions. Not that it can't be done safely, but there is far more to the practice than cool engineering to ensure safety and that someone doesn't take advantage of the technology for malevolent purposes. This past weekend is a harsh reminder of what can happen.
The furniture design is way cool. Not only does it illustrate what can be done with the 3D printing technology, but it also shows ingenuity in how this artist/engineer retrofit old equipment to meet his 3D printing needs.
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