Professor Lee Cronin, lead researcher at the University of Glasgow, believes his research could lead to the development of home chemical fabricators which consumers could use to design and create medicine at home. As he said: “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.”
Integrated 3D-printed reactionware for chemical synthesis and analysis
In a research paper titled ‘Integrated 3D-printed reactionware for chemical synthesis and analysis’ professor Cronin describes how he and his team have built what they call ‘reactionware’ using a 3D printer and open source design software.
Custom vessels fabricated on a laboratory scale
Reactionware are 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, professor Cronin and his 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 3D printer in a relatively short time. Even the most complicated vessels we’ve built have only take a few hours.”
The future of fabricating medicine and 3D printing
Professor Cronin has a clear view of what the future of fabricating medicine looks like. As he said: “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.” That’s why Cronin is now busy developing ‘apps’ to make it easy for others to print their own reaction vessels. We’ll keep you updated on this story.