3D printer for pharmaceuticals adapted to create drugs on demand

3D printers have been adapted to print drugs on demand by a team of researchers at the University of Glasgow.

The new approach has been described as a ‘Spotify for chemistry’ and in the future could lead to the manufacture of pharmaceuticals using a simple digital code.

This code is used by a 3D printer to produce a portable factory, which can then be used to make the drug by adding the chemicals in a pre-defined fail-safe sequence.

This approach could dramatically increase the number of useful drugs available regardless of patent life, as they will no longer need to be made in a limited number of dedicated manufacturing facilities.

The researchers claim the ability to ‘print’ drug factories on demand could reduce cost, increase the choice available to clinicians, reduce the risk of counterfeiting and help personalise drug delivery to the needs of individual patients.

The research team demonstrated the potential of the system by producing the pharmaceutical Baclofen, a muscle relaxer used to treat muscle symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis, including spasm, pain and stiffness.

The team’s chemical factories are designed using a chemical-to-digital convertor to digitise the process so that it can easily be reproduced in a 3D printer, a process which the researchers liken to converting a compact disc to an MP3 file which can then be listened to on any computer or portable music player.

With the addition of a simple instruction manual, the drug can be produced when and where it is needed.

Professor Lee Cronin, who led the project, said: “This approach is a key step in the digitisation 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 allow customisation to tailor them to the application. We will also use this approach to make a ‘Spotify for chemistry’, allowing scientists to develop better code to make important chemicals.”

Last year, Spanish researchers demonstrated a 3D printer that produces functional human skin that could be used for transplants or lab research. 

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