A team of scientists led by Professor Lee Cronin of the University of Glasgow have developed 3D printed “reactionware” that can make particular chemicals based solely on the geometry of the design and the chemicals within the constituent printing materials.

3D Printed Medicine

Using a FAB@HOME 3D printer and open-source software, the team has synthesized three previously unreported compounds and controlled the outcome of a fourth, purely by altering the chemical composition of the reactorware. Specialized containers for controlling and analyzing chemical reactions is costly and expensive, explained Dr. Cronin, so a simpler method will undoubtedly have a tremendous effect on the world.

As Dr. Cronin notes, “We could use 3D printers to revolutionise access to healthcare in the developing world, allowing diagnosis and treatment to happen in a much more efficient and economical way than is possible now. We could even see 3D 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.”

The simplification of what is a very complicated and expensive process of pharmaceutical manufacturing could have an substantial impact. There are thousands upon thousands of small laboratories across the developing world. As inventory of one drug goes down, they simply print off a bunch of reactionwares to make more. Big Pharma would have a very hard time putting down these generic pharmaceutical labs. I don’t want to be the first to note that its not just medicine that could be manufactured. Nitroglycerin is a compound commonly associated with ‘things that go boom.’ Ironically, Nitroglycerin is as commonly used as a vasodilator for treating heart conditions. There’s no doubt this technology could be used for good as well as evil – could governments ban certain reactionware designs? If they did, could they even hope to succeed?

Cronin Group via Nature. Full press release here.
Image: Fab@Home