University of Glasgow Researchers Develop 3D Printing Technology They Say Could Lead to DIY Drugstores

Posted on April 21, 2012

Scientists at the University of Glasgow have developed a new 3D printing process that they say could lead to DIY drugstores in the home. The scientists used a commercially-available 3D printer running open-source computer-aided design software. The researchers built what they called "reactionware vessels" for the 3D printer. Reactionware vessels are described by the Glasgow researchers as special vessels for chemical reactions made from a polymer gel which sets at room temperature. By adding other chemicals to the gel deposited by the printer, the team made the vessel itself part of the reaction process, which is often the case in large-scale chemical engineering.

Professor Lee Cronin, Gardiner Chair of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow, says, "It's long been possible to have lab materials custom-made to include windows or electrodes, for example, but it's been expensive and time-consuming. We can fabricate these reactionware vessels using a 3D printer in a relatively short time. Even the most complicated vessels we've built have only taken a few hours."

Cronin also says, "We could use 3D printers to revolutionize 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."

It would certainly make life easier if people could print their own drugs at home and avoid a trip to the drugstore. However, the drug industry is very regulated in most countries so this technology would likely be prohibited or very restricted. Many drugs in the U.S. require a prescription or are put behind the counter over fears people will use them to create illegal drugs. The pharmaceutical giants are likely to resist any technology that might disrupt them by using their considerable lobbyist power to encourage yet more regulation. The special apps Cronin mentioned could be a way to make a home 3D drug printer possible. It is also possible that once this technology is available it will be very difficult for governments to stop consumers from operating DIY drugstores at home without banning the purchase of certain chemicals or banning the technology itself.

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