Researchers at the University of Glasgow have crafted a set of reactors that can be used in tandem with 3D printing to produce pharmaceutical drugs. This development has the potential to change the lives of millions. People will be able to produce their own drugs in remote, inaccessible areas where medical assistance isn’t readily available. The public at large could print their own repeat medications without needing to visit a pharmacy or wait for a doctor’s appointment.
The research team built small structures that can undertake four unique chemical reactions in order to arrive at the finished drug. Doctors and pharmacists can add different substances to the structures and employ the use of a 3D printer to help them print pharmaceuticals.
Researchers tested the new technology by creating baclofen, a commonly used muscle relaxant, as well as other anticonvulsant and ulcer drugs.
The many benefits of 3D printed pharmaceuticals
The team behind this development argue that the technology will help ensure the availability of pharmaceuticals regardless of patent life. In addition, the process of 3D printing needed medications could help reduce the risk of counterfeit medication and could allow a medical professional to tailor the drug for a patient's unique needs.
The process would also cut shipping time and costs, providing medical supplies and ingredients instantaneously. Additionally, by printing the drugs themselves, users can reduce the likelihood of taking counterfeit medication. This is a growing problem across much of the developing world, with fake drugs being sold that do not contain the chemicals advertised.
In theory, drugs could also be customisable, tailored to the needs of individual patients.
The digitization of chemistry
3D printing could potentially take the production of pharmaceuticals out of the laboratory and into the mainstream. Professor Lee Cronin, the University of Glasgow’s Regius Chair of Chemistry, who led his research and manufacturing team in the design and development of the technology said:
“This approach is a key step in the digitization of chemistry, and will allow the on-demand production of chemicals and drugs that are in short supply, hard to make at big facilities, and [that] allow customization to tailor them to the application.”
Providing easy access to medication
3D printing could help see a world in which vital drugs are readily available for people around the world, including those in more remote areas who have struggled to gain access to the medical supplies they need. The research team hope to see them become a mainstay in the medical field.