New 3D printing process could lead to DIY drugstores

Apr 16, 2012

(Phys.org) -- A new 3D printing process developed at the University of Glasgow could revolutionise the way scientists, doctors and even the general public create chemical products.

Professor Lee Cronin, Gardiner Chair of at the University, believes his research could lead to the development of home chemical fabricators which consumers could use to design and create at home.

A new research paper, published in the journal Nature Chemistry today, outlines how the process has been proven to work. Using a commercially-available 3D printer operated by open-source computer-aided design software, Professor Cronin and his team have built what they call ‘reactionware’, special vessels for chemical reactions which are made from a polymer gel which sets at room temperature.

By adding other chemicals to the gel deposited by the printer, the team have been able to make the vessel itself part of the reaction process. While this is common in large-scale chemical engineering, the development of reactionware makes it possible for the first time for custom vessels to be fabricated on a laboratory scale.

Professor Cronin said: “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 in a relatively short time. Even the most complicated vessels we’ve built have only take a few hours.

“By making the vessel itself part of the reaction process, the distinction between the reactor and the reaction becomes very hazy. It’s a new way for chemists to think, and it gives us very specific control over reactions because we can continually refine the design of our vessels as required.

“For example, our initial reactionware designs allowed us to synthesize three previously unreported compounds and dictate the outcome of a fourth reaction solely by altering the chemical composition of the reactor.”

Although the technology they are developing is still at an early stage, the team, comprised of researchers from the University’s School of Chemistry and School of Physics and Astronomy, is also considering the long-term implications of developments in technology.

Professor Cronin added: “3D printers are becoming increasingly common and affordable. It’s entirely possible that, in the future, we could see chemical engineering technology which is prohibitively expensive today filter down to laboratories and small commercial enterprises.

“Even more importantly, 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.

“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.”

Professor Cronin’s paper, titled ‘Integrated 3D-printed reactionware for synthesis and analysis’, is published today in .

Explore further: Smoke flavourings and water vapour permeable bags for new fish smoking techniques

More information: Integrated 3D-printed reactionware for chemical synthesis and analysis, Nature Chemistry (2012) doi:10.1038/nchem.1313

Abstract
Three-dimensional (3D) printing has the potential to transform science and technology by creating bespoke, low-cost appliances that previously required dedicated facilities to make. An attractive, but unexplored, application is to use a 3D printer to initiate chemical reactions by printing the reagents directly into a 3D reactionware matrix, and so put reactionware design, construction and operation under digital control. Here, using a low-cost 3D printer and open-source design software we produced reactionware for organic and inorganic synthesis, which included printed-in catalysts and other architectures with printed-in components for electrochemical and spectroscopic analysis. This enabled reactions to be monitored in situ so that different reactionware architectures could be screened for their efficacy for a given process, with a digital feedback mechanism for device optimization. Furthermore, solely by modifying reactionware architecture, reaction outcomes can be altered. Taken together, this approach constitutes a relatively cheap, automated and reconfigurable chemical discovery platform that makes techniques from chemical engineering accessible to typical synthetic laboratories

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antialias_physorg
4.4 / 5 (5) Apr 16, 2012
which consumers could use to design and create medicine at home.

May I guess which type of 'medicines' will be made first? Or how this will affect the abuse of prescription drugs?

Perhaps with the introduction of carefully-controlled software apps, similar to the ones available from Apple

I would really like this to be more controlled than an App store. Think about the potential for mass poisonings by introducing a corrupted App (or by corrupting a legit App by a virus/trojan once it's been installed)

I'm all for free access to stuff, but there have to be certainl limits. It's not a good idea to have every citizen be able to produce a nuke (or the biological/pharmaceutical equivalent) at home.
kevinrtrs
2.7 / 5 (3) Apr 16, 2012
The possibilities are endless - the ultimate would be to construct a living biological cell using an incredibly super sophisticated 3D printer.
EdMoore
not rated yet Apr 16, 2012
Re: antialia "May I guess??"

Make more "soma" from your "homa"!!!
Telekinetic
not rated yet Apr 16, 2012
@antialias:
Every industry has a finite lifespan, from blocks of ice delivered to your door to silver nitrate coated film. This doesn't mean that these industries didn't serve their respective purposes admirably, they've just been supplanted by more convenient and cost effective ones. What gratifies me about the potential of home made medicine is that it will cut into the profits of the most egregious industry second only to the armaments industry- the pharmaceutical business. Their stranglehold on the cost to human life, safety, and financial condition of the health industry may be lessened because of it.
Newbeak
not rated yet Apr 16, 2012
May I guess which type of 'medicines' will be made first? Or how this will affect the abuse of prescription drugs?


Seeing as the "War on Drugs" is an utter failure,all drugs should be legalized.You're saying,holy shit,are you crazy? Well,people are going to take what they want whether or not it's legal,as they always have,only if it's legal,you will be assured your heroin isn't being cut with baby powder.Your drug supplier is now on the nearest street corner,and the potency and price are better than ever.
PhotonX
5 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2012

Every industry has a finite lifespan, from blocks of ice delivered to your door to silver nitrate coated film. This doesn't mean that these industries didn't serve their respective purposes admirably, they've just been supplanted by more convenient and cost effective ones.What gratifies me about the potential of home made medicine is that it will cut into the profits of the most egregious industry second only to the armaments industry- the pharmaceutical business. Their stranglehold on the cost to human life, safety, and financial condition of the health industry may be lessened because of it.


Point taken, but I have trouble believing that the grubby little fingers of Big Pharma won't find a way around this. Software security keys to disallow 'printing' molecules in a certain database perhaps? Or at least limited to a monthly supply of Boneria right after you swipe your credit card through the handy built-in reader.
kaasinees
0 / 5 (21) Apr 17, 2012

Point taken, but I have trouble believing that the grubby little fingers of Big Pharma won't find a way around this. Software security keys to disallow 'printing' molecules in a certain database perhaps? Or at least limited to a monthly supply of Boneria right after you swipe your credit card through the handy built-in reader.

Any system can be hacked even the most secure one, especially if you have physical access to it.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Apr 17, 2012
What gratifies me about the potential of home made medicine is that it will cut into the profits of the most egregious industry second only to the armaments industry- the pharmaceutical business.

I do agree on this. But we also have to acknowledge that pharmaceutical research costs a LOT of money (I did some evaluation software for a drug trial during my PhD and got to know the costs involved in a last phase trial...we're talking 100 million dollars - easy. Only one of 1000 drugs makes it to the last phase trial. While that means that the other 999 drugs will not cost nearly as much money to evaluate they still DO produce costs that need to be covered)
If all pharmaceuticals were instantly available for free afetr development (or via illegaly shared downloads) then that type of trial could only be done via taxes (if at all).

We need to find a middle ground here. Allow drugs to be profitable without them being a cashcow of stupendous proportions.
Dug
5 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2012
3-D printing is a technology where people's imagination have far out paced the reality and abilities of the actual devices. These printers are limited by the complexity of their final products and the printers ability to manage a very small range of highly refined printing materials and their respective print heads. While complex geometric shapes out of polymers are an easy task and has been done for years, going from printing a polymer to very complex organic molecules is an entirely different process and infinitely more complex and expensive. Don't hold your breath for 3-D printing to make and impact on the drug industry.

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