3D Printers now make DrugsTurns out the answer to cheap pharmaceuticals might lie with 3D printing. A research team from Glasgow have managed to make several different common chemicals with a 3D printer costing $2,000. First the 3D printer printed the various pieces of lab equipment necessary for the formulation of the chemicals, then the printer flipped heads and squirted and mixed chemicals.
Basically, with the right base substances, a properly designed 3D printer could perform all the necessary steps to manufacture typical drugs in your home, and new formulations could be downloaded from the internet. Which would be, as you can imagine, a powerful and dangerous proposition.
The printer used for the project was based on the Fab@home project, which might be thought of as a competitior to the more popular Reprap line of DIY 3D printers. Using a common bathroom sealant as the basis for reaction chambers and connecting tubes, the printer printed all the lab equipment necessary to make new chemicals. Then, using the same basic design as the 3D printing head, the printer squirted in “chemical inks” for the reactions to take place.
As a test of the technology, the research team printed a simple block that had two chambers hooked to a third mixing chamber, a classic design for simple reactions. The reactions that were carried out weren’t meant to have any specific purpose, only to demonstrate the feasibility of the approach. A second experiment had the team print out a catalyst for a common reaction, straight onto the surface of the chamber.
With this approach, you could literally feed a printer the recipe for a drug and have it make it within a short span of time.You wouldn’t need to be a chemist to make useful drugs at home.
But the more likely application of this technology isn’t in the home, but in small corner drug stores. Placing printers in the home capable of printing drugs is tantamount to giving everyone access to controlled substances, something the government will never allow. Small regulated corner shops, however, could blossom nicely.
Regardless, this is a novel approach to an interesting problem, and a nifty application of a versatile technology. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 3D printing could change everything.