3D printing has quickly become one of the largest industries in the modern world. It has affected virtually every field from t-shirt design to medical research. Expensive objects have become more affordable and therefore accessible to those in need. For example, plastic prosthetic limbs are being printed which is providing more people with the opportunity to not only walk again, but become more independent. Another medical advancement of 3D printing is the capability to print human tissue. This has not only started to eliminate the need for animal testing, but also gives us researchers more accurate outcomes.
Printing Pills Like Paper
The next big thing being discussed is 3D printed drugs. It sounds like a nuanced anecdote from a sci-fi novel, and maybe it is, but it is slowly becoming a reality. Calvin Yu-Chian Chen, a researcher in Taiwan invented a printer that can essentially make 3D printed drugs. The technology, out of all things, is based off of a traditional Chinese egg cake oven. Explained by Lip TV, the printer uses optical tweezers to synthesize a drug by manipulating one atom at a time. There are actually four optical tweezers operating simultaneously to produce the final product. In layman’s terms the printer needs two components, the formula and the ink. The formula acts as a code for the optical tweezers and the ink is the base compounds that are needed to make the pill. If the user has both, printing the pill would be as easy as printing out a piece a paper.
News and media outlets have only been able to speculate how this kind of technology is going to be distributed. The actual cost of these printers is four to five hundred dollars which is not too much more expensive than a decent sized home printer. There is a scientist at Glasgow University by the name of Lee Cronin who is trying to develop an online store. The store would catalouge and sell all of the formulas people needed. Filling a prescription could be as easy as downloading a formula on your computer and pressing print.
A New Way To Acquire Medication
Along with doctors being able to quickly modify prescriptions to better fit their patients needs, the convenience of making 3D printed drugs at home can help people with disabilities become more independent. It is a fast solution in time sensitive situations. Modifications can include the dosage to the size of the pill, making prescriptions more customizable than ever before.
The opening of an online store would cut out many costs big pharma currently capitalizes on. For example, the whole manufacturing process would become obsolete if people could print the pills themselves. According to Pharmacy and Therapeutics, “3D printing is currently a $700 million industry, with only $11 million (1.6%) invested in medical applications.1 In the next 10 years, however, 3D printing is expected to grow into an $8.9 billion industry, with $1.9 billion (21%) projected to be spent on medical applications.”
3D Printed Drugs Are the Future
The next ten years will be exciting time for the 3D printing industry, especially the plastic printers as there will most likely be a lot of molding required for printer prototypes and production. There’s still about two decades before 3D printing becomes the norm as consumers will most likely be hesitant to trust the new technology over established pharmacies, however, the time to invest is now. If the cost of production doesn’t disappear it will simply shift. The production of the printers and cartridges for the base compounds will no doubt be a booming business in the next twenty to thirty years.