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3D Print your own Meds?

3D Print your own Meds?
May 20
13:31 2016

When University of Glasgow chemist Lee Cronin announced that his lab was printing its own medicine with 3D printers, his words sounded like Science Fiction. Except they weren’t.

As Cronin and his team worked to make such mind boggling uses of 3D printing a reality, leading commentators immediately started weighing in on the pros and cons.

“The orphan drug problem may well become a bad memory,” writes Reason.com’s JD Tuccille, referring to small batches of medicine personalized for individuals suffering rare diseases. The ability to print your own medicine would be huge for this abandoned community. On the other hand, the questionably legal mood-boosters and psychedelics flooding today’s gas stations may become even more of a problem.

The main concern now is that regulators may find the challenges of 3D medicine so overwhelming that they choke it off completely – leaving illegal use as the only option.

PILLS-CROP-GOODSPRITAM, the world’s first commercially 3D printed drug, went on sale this month. The drug, used to treat epilepsy, demonstrates the medical uses of 3D technology earlier than many people expected.

“The recent FDA approval of the first 3D printed drug could lead to several complicated legal, product liability, and intellectual property conflicts that could derail the new technology before it even starts,” warns Bloomberg BNA.

Meanwhile, “investors from Wake Forest University, Columbia University, and the University of North Carolina created a prototype computer algorithm featuring software for 3D printing of personalized medications,” reports 3Ders.org.

While the software isn’t ready for pharmacies or homes, it has been used successfully to print varying doses of medication. This “could very well change how we treat serious and common medical conditions, from epilepsy to chronic pain, on a patient-specific basis, making medications customizable and therefore cheaper, more accurate, and more effective than ever before.”

That same article also warned that the same technology could be used “to manufacture and mask illegal drugs.”

Cronin foresaw such a challenge back in 2012. In an interview with Vice, he suggested regulating the chemical “ink” loaded into this sort of printer. “We could make sure the ink is so simple that any attempt to split it open and do things would not work.” In effect, it would work sort of like “Apple securing the iPhone from unauthorized apps.”

Interviewer Kevin Holmes was quick to point out that there’s always a hacker who can break into the system. His point is arguably more believable than Cronin’s idea to create unhackable chemical ink.

Three years ago, Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed managed to 3D print a working firearm. Needless to say, innovation is not easily confined to the parameters outlined by its creators.

Those in charge may not like it, but 3D printing is changing the world. With SPRITAM already on the market, regulators and lawyers worry about the potential to 3D print military material, weapons, keys to police handcuffs, illegal drugs, and other “undesirable” products.

But the biggest danger I see is the potential that lawmakers will try to cut off the evolution before it happens by banning or severely restricting 3D printing. If that happens, the technology will be left in the hands of the individuals who had lawmakers so worried in the first place. Research will continue underground, but some life-saving applications may be lost.

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April Kuhlman

April Kuhlman

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