3D printer creates drugs to order

Scientists at the University of Glasgow have created a new 3D printing process that they say could lead to ‘DIY drugstores’ in the home.

Using a commercially-available 3D printer running open-source computer-aided design software, the team has built what it calls ‘reactionware’ – 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’s made the vessel itself part of the reaction process, as is often the case in large-scale chemical engineering.

However, this is the first time it’s been possible to fabricate custom vessels on a laboratory scale.

“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,” says Professor Lee Cronin.

“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.”

For example, he says, initial reactionware designs have allowed the team to synthesize three previously unreported compounds and dictate the outcome of a fourth reaction solely by altering the chemical composition of the reactor.

“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,” says Cronin.

“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.”