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Surprising Science

Using 3D Printers to Create Customized Drugs

Researchers at the University of Glasgow have used 3D printers to synthesize chemical compounds commonly used in medicines, enabling a future of on-demand health care. 

What’s the Latest Development?

By using 3D printers as chemical synthesizers, researchers at the University of Glasgow predict they will be able to turn basic chemical constituents into personalized pharmaceutical drugs—and all on-demand. “It’s almost like a layer cake,” said professor Lee Cronin. “You print the last reactionary agent first and then build other chemical layers above, finally adding a liquid at the top. The liquid goes to layer one making a new molecule which goes to the next layer creating another and so on until at the bottom you get your prescription drug out.” Cronin’s findings have been published in the Nature Chemistry journal.

What’s the Big Idea?

Just as 3D printers look to revolutionize manufacturing, they may one day allow individuals to synthesize and print their own medicines at home. In that world, patients could download pre-set drug recipes and tailor medicines to meet their own specific needs. “This would not only place traditionally expensive chemical engineering technology within reach of typical laboratories and small commercial enterprises,” said the researchers, “but also could revolutionise access to healthcare and the chemical sciences in general in the developing world.” The technique could be used by pharmaceutical firms within five years. 

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