Many of the world’s greatest scientific discoveries have all stemmed from one initial simplified idea, which would go forth and improve to create a revolutionary end product. 3D printing is a prime example of this, where both technology and science intertwine to innovate this behemoth phenomenon of an invention which will aid generations upon generations. Scientists did not deem plausible up until 1984 when Charles Hull pioneered the impossible by using a process called stereolithography, whereby he created a layered solid structure using plastic, and etched a 3D shape from the structure using laser light. This would open the doors to endless possibilities for manipulation in medicine unbeknownst to him. Coincidentally, as of recently the newest revelation to 3D printing has managed to transform the pharmaceutical industry through the use of printing pharmaceutical drugs. This has created an uproar amongst leading scientists and extensive research has begun on designing and manufacturing an effective way to bring this into the open market “in as little as 5 years’ time” (Mendes, 2015, p.318) for consumers to freely use on a grand scale.
3D printing as a whole is a new concept however it has managed to grow rapidly since its invention. It has weaved its way through many different recreational, educational and industrial settings and established itself as the next best technological advancement. With its new found claim to fame 3D printing drugs has undergone extensive medical research and scientists have discovered the endless possibilities in drug manipulation. For starters, 3D printing drugs can be tailor-made to fit any individual’s requirements, this would inevitably aid in accurate and precise manufacturing of their prescription. Scientists and prescribers can control “factors like the size, shape, dosage, appearance and rate of delivery” (Apple Rubber, 2018), of the required drug to best suit the patient. In 2015 researchers at University College London started to create drugs in unique shapes, such as dinosaurs in order to appeal to children, making for what most kids deem a nightmare, a much more pleasant experience. Furthermore, the material in which drugs have been made have improved by the use of ‘biocompatible polymers’; these materials can “withstand high temperatures in the printing process” (Sanderson, 2015), therefore will not be affected during modelling. Spritam has been invented for the treatment of ‘onset seizures’ (Apple Rubber, 2018). This drug easily melts in the mouth as it’s made from polymer filaments layers. This make is easier for the elderly, people with anxiety, goiter, GERD or any other throat complication to ingest without any implications, and because of this Spirtam has become the first FDA approved drug through the marvel of 3D printing. Stella Wong states that with this new technology there will be “fewer side effects” thus enabling the improvement of “patient compliance” (Wong for PharmaTimes, 2018). The local manufacturing of the drugs could completely transform the industry, by lowering cost of mass production and distribution, pharmacies around the world can precisely print prescriptions at the convenience of their own practices without the hassle for waiting on delivery. This can be further aided with the invention of the ‘poly-pill’ patients can take multiple drugs at the same time, e.g. elderly patients may find it easier to take just one pill as many suffer from dysphagia, and with increasing cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s they will find it more convenient. This will also reduce the number of missed doses cutting down on medicinal waste which cost the NHS millions every year in funding. To resolve this fewer binding agents are used in 3D printed medicine, making it a brilliant resource for economical, industrial and social purposes.
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However there still remains many questions unanswered about its legitimacy and its sure-fire certainty to succeed. There are a few risks that slightly backtrack the progression of 3D printing medicine being more sparingly available. Firstly, one must consider the efficiency and safety of 3DP. Many drug manufacturing companies are programmed to be as efficient as possible, making thousands upon thousands of drugs every minute however with 3DP it may not be as quick and as safe as new biomaterials may work differently on every individual. Moreover, we could question the accountability and legitimacy of the products that get printed, the blueprints for each drug could get into the wrong hands and produce masses of counterfeit drugs. The wrong dosage may be applied for these and this could be hazardous for anyone who gets their hands on them. Amanda Pearson suggested: “Patent violations will increasingly become more common and identifying counterfeited items will become practically impossible” (Pearson, 2018). This could be a giant setback as there is always the potential risk of incident claims from the consumer which would hinder the industry financially. Another argument that is a severe issue is the potential of cyber hackers that could infect the 3DP systems. This means 3DP drugs are more susceptible to counterfeits due to ‘encrypted codes’ (Robinson, 2016). This could also be an exceptionally huge problem with drug dealers, who may hack and use the technology to print illegal narcotics. Lastly, it should be noted that 3DP drugs will be inevitably expensive despite its best effort to cut down on funds and waste products. A single machine would cost thousands of pounds on top of the limited materials e.g. gold which are used. In order to fully allow 3D printing in practices these cons would have to be overcome or 3DP drugs may do more harm than good.
The future is unclear, from what we know 3D printing is still at the beginning of its medical journey, from artificial bone printing to ‘melt in the mouth’ FDA approved epilepsy tablets. It is obvious that the possibilities are endless. Despite the disadvantages, one could conclude that 3DP drugs is actually beneficial. The future of 3D printing looks virtuous with many more tablets being available to the masses, this not only helps pharmacists speedily hand out prescriptions, but it could also mean in the future the pharmaceutical industry could expand into many other forms of 3D printed medication, e.g. cough syrup, or different tools for drug transfer e.g. 3D printed asthma sprays. Despite this possibly occurring in the distant future, one can say that as of now the phenomenon that is 3DP has truly changed the pharmaceutical world and even bettered it for the generations to come.