Print Your Own Medications [Science!]

The 3D printing innovations continue to pour in, the latest being from Professor Lee Cronin, involving a do-it-at-home medication printing machine.

It’s not quite the same 3D printing technology that we have now become used to seeing, since those create relatively large objects compared to the scale of organic chemistry. There are also a whole host of variables to consider that can drastically affect the viability and toxicity of a pharmaceutical during production, including temperature, pressure, contamination, light and chirality.

However, the basic idea is to create a series of chambers that will accept “chemical inks” (which contain basic reactants) and then use programming from an app to synthesize the desired med. Currently, an app to generate the production of Ibuprofen is being worked on.

While the dream is to create machines that can be commercialized and as common as a microwave in homes, it doesn’t seem likely to me. The machine would require quite specific maintenance and the medication would need to be tested after production since if something is slightly wrong, the chemical result could be literally deadly. That would require a certain level of expertise that I don’t think the general population will be able to obtain in a manual.

However, it does seem like an interesting concept for pharmacies – especially those in remote areas, which find it difficult to ship quite specific meds for such small clientele. I would imagine it would also be useful in developing countries, as I would imagine getting reactants that can be used to create medications would be easier to order and send than the each pharmaceuticals individually.

It would also be great for hospitals, as it could mean that they could have more efficient medication storage, since they wouldn’t have to make sure that they stock all the different medications – only make sure that they have the chemical inks and the apps ready at hand.

The whole idea is so very science fiction and I for one find it incredibly exciting to live in a time when this sort of concept is not only conceivable, but actually being executed!

The only problem I see is the potential for increased illegal drug manufacturing – something that I’m sure the creators would try their best to prevent, but still likely to happen. However, I think the benefit of such technology outweighs the potential risk. What do you think?

[Via | Molecular model of ibuprofen picture from]

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