A prediction for the future is that 3D printing of prescription drugs and medicine will certainly be feasible. It is estimated that most drug companies will move to 3D drug printing methods. It is also predicted that someday patients may even be able to create their own medicine at home.
Recently a couple of scientists from Glasgow Scotland announced that they were able to create a pharmaceutical 3D printer that can create drugs and medicine on a molecular scale by making simple modifications to a standard 3D printer that they purchased for less than $1,000. Their vision is for a 3D printer that uses a universal set of chemical inks to produce prescription medication on demand.
What Are the Implications?
Using 3D printers to replicate drugs and medicine can in fact be a life-saving tool for many people. The cost of pharmaceuticals can be prohibitive for many people and being able to purchase your own device to manufacture these drugs (maybe even having the insurance company cover the cost of the device) can make life-saving drugs affordable. Using our own stem cells, customized medications can be created using 3D printers.
Some companies have already successfully used 3D printers to making food products, so prescription drugs is another step forward along this same spectrum. Before then, it is more likely that the printing of health supplements could take hold in the collective unconscious and spring to fruition quickly.
The implications for use in third world countries is tremendous. In developing countries the simplest compounds are not available. A prescription drug 3D printer can save millions of lives in these countries predominately children lives.
Sounds good? This technology will be an excellent option if it is used right but how do you regulate the use? Who will decide who gets to create their own pharmaceuticals? If two scientists from Glasgow can create a 3D printer that prints out drug compounds by making a few adjustments to an over the counter bought machine, how hard will it be for drug dealers that are creative to do the same thing?
The Unfortunate Truth
Every positive has a negative. Allowing people to create their own prescriptions at home is a great way to curtail the out of control prescription drug market but it is also a way to give kitchen chemists that tools that they need to create new designer drugs.
How long would it be before some college kids figure out how to take their 3D printer add a few chutes to use chemicals as ink? Not very long. One of the biggest concerns hosted by ethics conferences around the world is how do you regulate this new technology?
Who gets to make the decision of who is worthy to own devices that can create drug compounds? The possibilities for helping is endless but so is the possibility for starting a very dangerous trend. Finding the balance for this new technology can be very difficult because there has never been anything like it before. There is no point of reference for laws and regulations to be built on.
Moving forward with this technology is something that will have to looked at closely by state and federal governments. Just like the 3D printing of handguns – just because everyone can do it doesn’t mean everyone should be doing it.
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University of Glasgow 3D drug printer