Can you 3D print drugs?
The technology exists, and while the hope is to make prescription drug distribution more efficient, there's also a dark side to the novel idea

By  | June 26, 2013

From the looks of it, 3D printing is about to revolutionize all sorts of industries, from kitchenware (download a design for an ice cube tray off the internet instead of heading to Pier 1 Imports) to dreamier pursuits like the food replicator in Star Trek that we've fantasized about (3D-printed pizza, anyone?). There's the dangerous stuff, too, as Defense Distributed — the libertarian-leaning organization dedicated to disseminating open-source CAD files for 3D-printed handguns and rifles — has demonstrated by thumbing its nose at gun-control laws, irking lawmakers in the process.
Other industries will likely be revolutionized as well, so we might as well ask the hard questions now. How soon until it's possible to 3D print drugs?
Perhaps sooner than you think. Medicine, in particular, was the centerpiece of a recent TED Talk by Lee Cronin, a chemist from the University of Glasgow. Cronin claims to have prototyped a 3D printer capable of assembling chemical compounds on the molecular level. "What Apple did for music," Cronin said, "I'd like to do for the discovery and distribution of prescription drugs."
His process wouldn't be all that different from the way today's clunky 3D printers work, except on a much smaller (and therefore more precise) scale. According to Cronin, users would go to an online drugstore with their digital prescription, buy the "blueprint" and the chemical "ink" they need, and then print the drug at home with software and a 3D molecular printer. Medicine's entire distribution model could, in essence, be flattened.
The advantage, of course, is that the advent of home-printed drugs would open up "the way for personal medicine," Cronin tells Vice. Chemicals and dosages can be tailored to the specific needs of the individual. Allergies and other concerns can be edited out. "In the future, we will not sell drugs, but blueprints or apps," says Cronin.
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