We brought you the first potentially negative use of 3D printers this morning with the revelation that one can make rare handcuff keys with a simple 3D printer or laser cutter. The technology is still really cool, but it must be used with great responsibility. Well, there's another use for 3D printers that has a lot of potential to be abused, but also a lot of potential to save lives.
The 3D printer revolution has taken hold of Professor Lee Cronin at Glasgow University. He has many interests, but one of his most ambitious involves 3D printers. In an interview with The Guardian, he talks up 3D printers and their potential for revolutionizing the medicine industry. His goal is to create "downloadable chemistry" so that people can print their own medicine at home.
Of course, you can already see the problem here. Prescription drug abuse is a major problem in many countries, especially in the U.S. Giving people easy access to those drugs is a potential hazard that must be addressed. Cronin dismisses such a scenario and instead focuses on the benefits such an innovation could have on society.
His team is now trying to build simple drugs with a 3D printer that only costs £1,200. So far, they have been able to build simple inorganic molecules inside reaction chambers. The next step is attempting to create something simple, like Ibuprofen. Cronin notes that if they succeed, they'll be able to print just about any drug.
The main benefit, according to Cronin, would be distributing drugs to places that never get them because "the population is not big enough, or not rich enough." Besides releasing malaria resistant mosquitoes into Africa, Cronin sees 3D printing as an inexpensive way of getting malaria drugs into communities that need it most.
3D printers are all about democratizing traditional distribution models. Before, we would have to demand an item and then wait for a company to manufacture and distribute said item. 3D printing puts the manufacturing and distribution into the hands of the people. It's that core concept that drives Cronin to build a 3D printer capable of creating medicine.
The final quote in The Guardian's interview with Cronin is quite telling. On the matter of printing medicine, he says, "As well as transforming the industry and making money, we could be saying lives. Why wait?" "Why wait?" is the most important question right now in the 3D printing scene and I hope more people beging to realize that there is no reason to wait.