Chemputer – A printer to print out drugs on the desk

Technology is advancing at a very fast pace and we are just few years away from having robotic slaves. We already have printers that can print out simple 3D object. Though the 3D printing technology is very slow and in its infancy at the moment, scientists have found more useful purpose for this idea. Professor Lee Cronin, a leader of a world-class team of 45 researchers at Glasgow University has taken things to ultimate level by creating a printer which can produce or “print” any drug that we need. It is christened as Chemputer and makes use of simple reagent as its ink cartridge. The idea is to mix those reagents in right amounts in order to produce complex chemicals, which are actually the drugs that we desire.

Chemputer isn’t a 3D printer as such, but uses the basic idea where in which simple organic molecules can be altered to obtain useful compounds. The project is far from being completed, and Cronin’s team is working day and nights to synthesize a fairly simple drug, Ibuprofen, using the machine, but hey, it’s the start. It’s all based on organic chemistry. Not all drugs are made the same way, and some drugs are way easier to make. There are many variables such as temperature and pressure taken into account while manufacturing any modern drug. Also, chirality is very important in any drug. Few drugs interact with your body in the same way in any chiral state, however, there are few drugs which are effective only in an exact chiral state and either fail by being inert or even turn toxic and backfire, which can be dangerous and something that’s not desirable.

Cronin says – “What we are trying to do is to combine the notion of a reaction with a reactor,” he says. “Conventionally the reactor is just the passive space or the environment in which a reaction takes place. It could be something as simple as a test tube. The printer allows it to be a far more active context.”

This is all happening when 3D printers are just coming out science fiction and becoming a reality. Aside from the “personal chemputer” idea, he is also enthusiastic about creating a reaction ware model where scientists can produce new variety of drugs and test them. Also, there are many counterfeit drugs out there, mostly anti malerials and anti retrovirals. Using a machine like Chemputer, one can print their own drug according to pharmaceutical company’s software in their house or local pharmacy, thus reducing risk of buying counterfeit drugs due to which many lives have been lost. There are few drugs which aren’t freely available just because there is no demand, and if there is demand, the buyers aren’t rich enough. Such drugs can be produced on a Chemputer like machine in a cost effective way.

There are few potential legal dangers and real-world shortcomings, such as a gangster printing his own drug, but Cronin is currently focusing on positive aspects of such a technology. Basically, if you have all the ingredients needed for manufacturing a particular drug, all you have to do is follow a series of steps, a recipe, in order to manufacture the needed drug. That recipe needs to be provided by the manufacturer. The idea is similar to an app, where you download a particular drug’s app which contains the recipe and ingredient’s value, and will enable the machine to recreate the exact drug that is instructed in the software.

After attracting attention from media, Cronin has been busy talking to various big shots interested in development of such a technology. He has been contacted by pharmaceutical companies which are intrigued by his business model and Nato generals who think a machine like Chemputer could save lives of soldiers on a battlefield.

Nevertheless, it is a very intriguing idea. Imagine future when you have to just feel prescription to your computer and the printer will print the drug for you. You don’t have to pay hefty shipping cost for some drug that is not available in your country, instead you can just electronically download an app and start printing your own drug. According to us, Chemputer like device will be more suitable for local pharmacies as various variables will have to be maintained in order to get quality output, something which is tough to happen in our kitchen. Perhaps, somebody may as well create a printer to print household objects on your desk. What are your thoughts? Let us know using the comment form below.

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